Having just graduated college four months ago, I often find myself facing a lot of new money decisions and am clueless how to answer them. Since most of my friends are in the same boat as I am, I cannot always turn to them for answers. But I do have one friend who's been a big help. You know that friend ... the ambitious type who already has his whole financial future planned out and knows exactly how to get there.
Fortunately, I ran into him the other day. With the help of his book, So You Graduated College: A Financial Guide to Life After Graduation, Daniel Franklin was able to help guide me in the right direction with many of my college graduate "what to do" questions.
What's next now that I've entered the "real world"?
According to Dan, the first thing college graduates need to do is to participate in their insurance company's COBRA program if they won't have continual health insurance coverage. COBRA allows college graduates, or those without a job, to remain on their health insurance plan for up to 18 months until they find a new insurer or job that provides health insurance.
How do I find a "good" job?
Since by some accident of nature I was able to persuade the fine folks at The Motley Fool to let me write for them, I didn't have any questions about how to find a job. But Dan gave some tips for those deciding on their future career path.
People are always fixated on how much they can make from a job, but salary is not necessarily the most important aspect about finding a good job. For instance, you might be much happier with a job that pays a lot less but is psychologically rewarding, like teaching, or a job that allows for free time and a much more flexible schedule.
In addition, when comparing two similar occupations, don't forget to factor in the substantial value of the benefits that may come along with the job, such as health insurance, 401(k) investment plans, or other perks. These fringe benefits can be very lucrative; for example, if a job offers a matching program for any investment made into a 401(k), that can become worth thousands of dollars.
On frugal living
I received many tips on how to be thrifty from my friend and his book, such as suggestions for saving money on dates and buying generic foods instead of the brand names. My favorite tip, though, was that when at a bar, buy a cheaper beer instead of one of the most expensive ones. For anyone worried about looking as though they have cheap taste in beer, just buy it on draft (i.e., in a glass), and nobody in the bar will be the wiser about your frugal drinking habits.
On getting started with investing
Just as the Fool has preached for years, Dan recommends index funds for folks who have little familiarity with securities analysis but who want exposure to the stock market. He mentioned funds such as Vanguard's Total Stock Market
Regardless of what sorts of investments you decide to make, one great way to shelter your investment gains from taxes is with a retirement vehicle like a Roth IRA. Opening up a Roth IRA is a very simple and smart way to save for retirement. To make investing easier, dollar-cost averaging by taking equal amounts of money regularly out of your paychecks is a good way to get in the act of saving.
Now, I know that not everyone will know a person who has his or her entire financial future planned and who can be a guide for his friends. Luckily, The Motley Fool has a service called GreenLight that will provide you with sound financial advice and help you save money. You can take a free 30-day trial to GreenLight to learn about more great financial tips and tricks. Click here for more details.
Wal-Mart is an Inside Value pick.