On The Money: Tips for managing your money after getting that first job

Retirement Planning Associated Press

Landing that first job out of college calls for a celebration. But when the party is over, it's time to sit down and figure out how to make your money work for you.

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"First jobs give you the opportunity to set yourself up for financial security," says Kelley Long, a Chicago-based certified public accountant.

Chances are you were handed a fat folder, and left to figure out your benefits on your own. Here's some tips to navigating them:

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PREPARE FOR THE GOLDEN YEARS

Retirement may seem like a long way off, but saving in your 20s can build bigger savings than if you start later.

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Check to see what type of retirement accounts you're offered. If your employer matches contributions you make to a 401(k) account, definitely sign up. "It's free money," says Long, who is also a member of the National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. If a match isn't offered, it still pays to put about 10 percent of your pay into the account. If no 401(k) is offered, look into opening an Individual Retirement Account on your own at a brokerage firm, such as Fidelity or Vanguard.

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CHOOSE YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE

Health insurance can prevent big medical bills from causing financial ruin. Health plans typically are offered in different tiers, the more you pay from every pay check, the more coverage you get. So read all the plans and make a selection based on your medical needs.

If you're not happy with the plans, or if you can't stick with your doctors, you can also opt to stay on your parents' plan until you're 26. "That's not such a bad decision," Long says.

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PUT TOGETHER A BUDGET

Unfortunately, your paycheck will not look anything like the yearly salary your new employer offered. Taxes, health insurance payments and other deductions will take a big chunk out. You may not know exactly how much you'll take home each month until you get your first paycheck. From there you can put together a budget and figure out how much you need to pay for groceries, housing, auto payments and other necessities.

It's also a good time to start building an emergency fund for any unexpected expenses. Aim to save between three and six months' worth of your pay, says Kristen Robinson, a senior vice president of women and young investors at Fidelity in Boston.

And don't forget to account for student debt payments. Typically, payback for federal student loans starts six months after graduation.

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PLAN FOR THE WORSE

Protect you paycheck by signing up for disability insurance, which will pay you a portion of your salary if you're hurt or sick and can't work. "The biggest asset that you have as a new young worker is your ability to earn income for the next 40 years," says Chantel Bonneau, a wealth management adviser at Northwestern Mutual in Los Angeles. Some employers may offer the benefit automatically, and let workers pay more for extra coverage, Bonneau says.

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SIGN UP FOR PERKS

Don't miss out on any deals your employer may offer. Many have negotiated discounts for employees for cellphone bills, laptops and even gym memberships, all of which can add up to major savings. If you can't find any, ask your human resources manager if any are offered.