How College Grads Can Improve Money Management Skills


They might have an undergraduate degree under their belts, but recent graduates are entering the real world lacking sufficient knowledge and education when it comes to money management.

According to a recent report by Finra’s Investor Education Foundation, 19% of Americans still spend more than they earn and 56% said they do not have "rainy day" funds that cover three months of expenses. What’s more, the report cites that a lack of financial education — mostly among younger workers in certain states — is the main reason many Americans have little in savings.

Grads that start making sound financial decisions and positive habits at a young age are setting the framework to create a strong, lasting relationship with money, claims personal finance expert  Kimberly Foss, who founded Empyrion Wealth Management.

“How we handle our money early in life can impact us in future years--for example, young adults who rely on credit may find themselves continuing this pattern throughout life and consumed with debt,” she says. “When you take into consideration the financial turmoil many have faced in recent years and the future of Social Security, it is wise for younger generations to start saving early and thinking about their finances.”

Although retirement may seem like the distant future, college-age consumers have one major savings tool on their side: time.

“If Gen Y expects a similar lifestyle to their parents, they need to be consciously tackling their debt, managing spending habits and preparing for their financial future,” Andy Josuweit, CEO of Student Loan Hero says.

To get a better handle on money management skills, here are three tips that financial experts say can help students and grads make good decisions.

Tip No. 1: Identify Money Habits, Make a Budget

Setting up a budget and tracking expenses either on paper or through online budgeting tools shows students and grads exactly where their money goes each month and gives them the opportunity to adjust spending in certain areas.

Keeping a financial journal can establish what kind of habits have already started and help to head off bad ones early on, says Chanel Greene, manager of Financial Aid at Peirce College.

“You will quickly learn where you spend the most money and what you value financially--are you a person who makes impulse buys or do you research your purchases?” she says.  “This type of trending becomes valuable when the student is trying to determine if they need to keep spending in check, how well they manage their money and if there are areas where they can improve their budgeting skills.”

Tip No: 2: Create a Savings System

Whether grads manually set aside a certain amount of money each month, schedule an automatic withdrawal from their checking account or direct a percentage of their paycheck into an employer retirement plan, the experts say creating a savings system is essential for successful long term money management.

“Deposit whatever you can initially, and then aim to contribute 15% of your take-home pay to the fund monthly,” recommends Foss.

Participating in an employer retirement plan such as a 401k can really help to augment savings and keep the money in a safe place. When signing up for a retirement investment vehicle, grads should also make sure to inquire about and take advantage of any employer matches offered to them, says Dave Richmond, founder of Richmond Brothers, a wealth management firm.

“A 401k is best because you never even see the money--anything you can payroll deduct is best because you never see it,” he says.

Tip No. 3: Ask for Advice

Reading up on financial issues and understanding the different components of money management can help grads and students make better choices throughout their adulthood, says Foss.

“The more aware they are of their finances, the better-positioned they will be to make smarter decisions,” she says. “A great place to start is—there you can learn about budgets, debt, student loans, managing your credit score and more.”

Although here are a plethora of resources to seek advice from including books, websites, financial advisors and credit counselors, talking to a trusted friend or family member can also result in extremely useful advice, says Richmond.

“They might be able to tell you these are the mistakes we made because we did not start soon enough, so you may be able to learn the great things they’ve done and the things they wish they would have done,” he says. “You can either step in the potholes that everybody steps in or you can learn to avoid them--it’s much easier and less painful to learn how to avoid them.”