First Person: The 4 Best Money Moves I Made After College

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I found that taking some simple steps after college, helped to set me on the right course to financial success as I grew older. There were several moves, that looking back on now, I'm really glad I made, since they put me on track to achieve later financial goals and make decisions that benefited not only my financial life, but my career and family life as well.

Here are a few of the most important financial moves that I made after college and how they helped me moving forward.

Paying Down Student Loans

According to the NY Times, the average college graduate with student loans owed $25,250 in 2010.

As soon as I graduated from college, I took an inventory of my various student loans, what their terms and rates were, as well as their amounts. Having familiarized myself with these outstanding debts, I set about trying to pay them off as quickly as possible.

While their interest rates weren't ridiculously high, I used my six-month grace period on these loans to start socking away any extra cash I could in order to put additional money toward paying my loans down as much as possible, as soon as possible.

I looked at any additional dollars that I had to put toward these loans in the form of interest as lost money, so when they started to come due, I made the final push, paying off my nearly $8,000 in loans in full in less than a year. Doing so got me debt free soon after college, and provided me with a game plan with which to work when I eventually helped my future wife tackle over $40,000 in graduate school loans several years later.

Building an Emergency Fund

Graduating with student loans and having a somewhat low-paying entry-level job after college left me feeling very vulnerable. I therefore, began working on building an emergency fund as soon after graduation as possible.

While most of my extra money went to paying off my student loans, as soon as these debts were eliminated, I started focusing fully on my emergency fund to protect me in the event of a job loss. This first fund was initially only about $1,000, but after meeting that goal, I bumped it up to $2,000. Then, after that, I pushed for $5,000 and then $10,000.

Once I hit the 10k mark, I felt secure enough to take some of that money and put it into other investments, leaving myself with the $5,000 emergency fund while the rest of the money worked earning interest for me in less accessible investments.

Building a Financial Data Profile

While I was pushing hard with my career and financial efforts, I made time to begin accumulating a financial data profile. I had actually started this profile had in college by tracking my expenses. It continued after graduation not only by continuing my expense tracking, but by branching out into things like asset tracking, utility tracking, and similar data collection that helped me build a portfolio of information upon which to refer to later as well upon which to base future financial decisions.

Saving for Retirement

As soon as I got my student loans out of the way and my emergency fund started, I starting looking toward my distant future. In a way, it worked out well that the company for which I worked at the time had a nine-month period during which employees had to work before becoming eligible to participate in their retirement savings programs.

This timeframe allowed me to work on paying off my student loans and getting a start on my emergency fund while not having to feel bad about not contributing to my retirement accounts.

In a way though, I felt that working on these other goals was a part of preparing for my retirement, since getting debt free and becoming financially secure certainly weren't going to hurt my chances of retiring on time.

As soon as that probationary period at work was up though, I started putting 5 percent of my bi-weekly paycheck toward my 401(k) and another 5 percent toward a stock purchase plan in which shares of company stock were purchased twice a year at the lowest point during the six-month periods, as well as at a 10 percent premium.

Jumping on these financial aspects soon after graduation gave me a leg up when it came to my personal finances and helped me to start off -- and stay -- on the right financial track.

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Lewin, Tamar. NY Times. "College Graduates' Debt Burden Grew, Yet Again, in 2010." November 2, 2011. Jun 28, 2012.


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