Dear recent (or not-so-recent) graduate,
Please move out.
Yes, we know that moving back in with your parents can be a financial lifesaver for those starting out. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly one-third of households headed by 25-to-29-year-olds make less than $30,000 annually. High debt burdens, crazy rents, and less access to health insurance stretch already-thin paychecks to the breaking point.
Clearly, there's no place like home, particularly when rent and laundry are on the house. Roughly 60% of graduating seniors move back home, and four in 10 young adults cram all their worldly belongings into their hatchback and return to the nest at least once after trying to go it alone.
But let's be honest: As much as you all value this cherished time together, everyone's counting the hours until you're ready to mess up your own pad. When you're 35, do you really want to be "that guy" -- you know, the one still sleeping on the twin bed in his childhood bedroom?
Didn't think so. So here are four post-graduation savings tips to help you survive your first (or fifth) foray into the real world.
1. Score student-loan discounts. Nearly two-thirds of graduates leave school with student loans, with the average 2007 graduate facing a $20,500 tab (a $235 monthly obligation on a 10-year payment plan). Rate adjustments this year aren't significant (starting July 1, Stafford and PLUS loans will increase 0.08%), but if your loan has an adjustable rate, keep close tabs. An easy way to score an interest rate reduction is to be a goody two-shoes about making payments on time. For instance, if you're eligible, Sallie Mae (NYSE: SLM ) will reduce your interest rate by 0.25% just for signing up for an automatic payment plan, and you'll save up to 1% if you make your first 36 payments on time. Loan consolidation, deferment, or graduated payment plans based on income can help ease the pain of repayment, too.
2. Slash your credit card interest rate. The average graduate owes nearly $2,200 to his or her credit card company. Just because your credit card is emblazoned with an image representing your alma mater, that doesn't mean that it's sanctioned spending. Stop flashing your school logo to every cashier in town, dig out your debate class notes, and pick up the horn. Your homework: Negotiate a lower interest rate on your balance. Here, too, an on-time payment history works in your favor. You can talk your way into a better deal, potentially saving $756 with one phone call.
3. Drive a beater car and raise your deductible. Besides having the TiVo to themselves again, your parents are probably looking forward to dumping you from their car insurance policy (if they haven't parted ways with you already). If they haven't bragged about your stellar GPA, participation in a safe-driving course, or frequent use of public transportation, tell them that doing so can cut the costs of having you on their policy. As you bide your time until you turn 25 and are eligible for lower premiums, drive a beater car (cheaper to insure), pay for small claims out of pocket, and keep a clean driving record for three years. (If you thought Dad's reaction to that speeding ticket was harsh, just wait until you see the punishing premiums your insurer has in store.) An instant way to save big is to raise your current deductible to $1,000 (if it's currently $250 or $500). That can slash your premiums by 15% or more. (Now put that savings into a hands-off emergency account, so you can pay out of pocket for that unfortunate run-in with the concrete parking-garage pylon.)
4. Cozy up to HR in your first week on the job. Remember how satisfying it was to watch that giant plastic Budweiser mug in the corner of your dorm room fill up with spare change? The adult version of the stein full of quarters is called a 401(k) (or other work retirement plan). Since the money coming out of your paycheck is pre-tax, you'll be surprised at how little it hurts to part with a few of those dollars. And if your company offers to match a portion of your contributions, score! That, my friend, is what we call free money. For someone making $30,000 a year and getting an additional $0.50 on each dollar up to 6% of his or her salary, that's $75 a month for just showing up. (OK, so you can't spend it until retirement, but free money is free money.) It's easy to set up and automate this savings plan. Just ask your HR person for the proper forms (here's a bit of guidance on what investments to choose), and you'll be done before your work buddies leave for happy hour.
Program the aforementioned "to do" list into your Palm-cell-BlackBerry-iWhatchamacallit to start saving some serious coin. You'll be out of Mom and Dad's hair in no time.
On behalf of your parents, I wish you all the best.
PS: If you don't trust anyone over the age of, er, 29, maybe you'll listen to money advice from one of your peers.
Dayana Yochim spent four months under her parents' roof "transitioning" into the working world after college. AtMotley Fool Green Light she offers operating instructions for live-at-home adults on money issues at every life stage. First round's on us! (You'll get a 30-day free pass by clicking that link.) The Fool's disclosure policy already has its own place -- a deluxe apartment in the sky.