Personal Finance 
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Your Take: Tips for New Graduates

MicrophoneHopefully you’ve enjoyed this week’s New Graduate Guide series and, even if you aren’t a new graduate, learned a little something that you can use in your daily life. If you know any new graduates, or soon to be new graduates, I hope you can send them a copy of the Bargaineering 2010 New Graduate Guide so they may avoid some of the mistakes and mis-steps I may have taken so many years ago.

As I mentioned from the onset of the series, these series are made all the better with your contributions. I’ve probably learned way more from you than you have learned from me (for that I thank you!) and today I wanted to read your best tips for new graduates. It can be as simple or as complex as you want, the microphone is yours and you can share whatever you think is useful for someone just entering the world.

What is your best tip(s) for new graduates?

(Photo: visual_dichotomy)


 Career 
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Decode and Understand Your Paycheck

Pay StubI remember when I received my first real pay stub, it was a mixture of happiness and absolute horror. It was my first summer internship after my freshman year of college. I was earning something like $12 and I was pumped that in my first week I’d earn $480. Then I saw my paycheck.

At first glance, your paycheck is a lot of numbers in tables. If you spend a few minutes, you can generally decode and understand what’s going on. However, sometimes it takes a little extra work because your company will use acronyms you aren’t 100% familiar with. When I looked at my first paycheck, I was able to decode it pretty easily… the Feds got their piece, NY state got their piece, and then this weirdo named FICA took a little slice. What? Who the heck is FICA?

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 Personal Finance 
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Furnishing Your New Place

Fancy Schmancy FurnitureWhen I moved from Pittsburgh to my new apartment near Baltimore, I had almost no furniture. I had a desk from IKEA that we still use today but very little else. When I made it to Baltimore, I didn’t buy any new furniture because my roommate already had a whole bunch of stuff like couches, dining table and chairs, etc. I moved two more times after that, once to be closer to work and then again into our first, and current, home; and felt lucky that I “accidentally” learned the key to furnishing your apartment: keep things inexpensive and light.

Inexpensive because you will want to save as much money as you can for other things, be it trips to the bar to socialize with new friends or an emergency fund. Light because you will probably move again and you don’t want to burden yourself with a lot of “stuff” so early on.

If you’re moving into a house that you bought, consider buying furniture that lasts because you won’t need to move. Otherwise, keep it light and cheap. You’ll thank me when you move in a year.

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 Personal Finance 
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How to Find Your First Apartment

Why am I writing a post about how to find an apartment? It seems so easy right? Look around in the areas you like, pick a place, sign a lease, and you’re done. Unfortunately, while it seems very easy, the process is fraught with ways you can get screwed.

So in the next few paragraphs I’ll explain the steps I used when I was trying to find my first apartment after moving from Pittsburgh to Baltimore. When I moved here, I chose a place that seemed like a lot of fun but was a good 25 minute commute from work. While that doesn’t seem like a long distance, it gets longer and longer after a full day of work.

I learned that leases can be complicated, filled with lots of gotchas, and that you really need to be on top of your stuff when it comes to contracts. It’ll be boring to read but you must do it, or suffer the consequences when you leave.

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 Credit 
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How Does Your FICO Credit Score Work

Credit CardsIf you thought that graduating meant the end of people grading and assigning you a number, think again. In the real world, it’s not your GPA that matters, but your FICO score. It’s a three digit number that is supposed to give creditors an idea of how credit worthy you are. Technically, it’s a measure of how likely you are to default on your debts.

It’s obvious why credit card companies, mortgage lenders, banks, and the like are interested in your credit score, but did you know that your employer, your landlord, your cell phone company, and your cable company are interested in it too? Anyone who may lend you something, like your cell phone company giving you cell phone minutes before you pay for them, is interested in how likely you are to make good on your financial promises. Your credit score has taken a life of its own, it’s about time you understood the beast.

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 Personal Finance 
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Why You Need A Budget

Not A Good BudgetWhen I was in college, I never had a budget. I didn’t keep a budget because most of my expenses were paid for in a lump sum at the beginning of the year. My room and board were all integrated into that payment, which made for a pretty simple financial life. The extent of my purchases were at the local bar or at the grocery store when I wanted something a little more interesting than what was available in the fraternity kitchen. I had little income, little expenses, and almost no need for a budget.

That all changed when I started working. Here I was, with a real salary, real expenses, and little by way of advice on how I was supposed to track anything. Fortunately my friend sent along an Excel spreadsheet she used to and that got me on my way. I quickly learned I was spending way too much on food, specifically a mediocre lunch in the cafeteria, and was able to adjust my spending to reflect what I wanted. I learned that having a budget is absolutely crucial.

This isn’t an article on how to budget, a topic I’ve written about extensively in the past, but more about why you need to keep and maintain a budget.

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 Retirement 
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Start Retirement Savings Early

Nest EggsYou’ve probably heard that your most valuable asset is time. For new graduates, that line actually refers to two different ideas, both of which are critically important to understand. The first idea is that with few entanglements and draws on your time (mainly no kids), you can devote more of it to your career and engineer the largest advancements in your career.

The second refers to the power of compounding interest and that’s important to understand with regards to your retirement in forty+ years.
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 Banking 
13
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How to Build Your Financial Foundation

New Construction FoundationPouring the foundation is the first step in building a new house. Ensuring it is level, stable, and on solid ground is more important than any subsequent step in the building process. Your finances are no different. Setting up a stable financial foundation will be paramount in ensuring your finances are in good shape.

Fortunately, the steps towards establishing a sound financial foundation are very easy. The hard part is knowing what those steps are and, unfortunately, those aren’t taught in many schools. I like to think of my financial foundation as the network of financial accounts onto which all my life’s decisions are made.

A good way to think of your financial foundation is to draw a financial network map. A financial network map is simply a picture of all of your accounts and how they are related. If you are starting from nothing (no checking account, no savings account, no credit card, etc.), your map is blank. If you have a couple accounts, draw the map and we can start from there.

Your foundation starts with three different financial accounts:
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