Graduated Learning: Life after College

I got my degree, I got a job…now what?

A Graduate’s Guide to Being A Grownup June 8, 2013

I was chatting with an old friend yesterday at one of the events at MIT’s Tech Reunions and she asked me how I got into all this personal finance stuff.  Well, as my blog’s sub-heading reads: “I got a degree, I got a job, now what?”  That’s really how it started.  I graduated (with a hefty pile of student loans), and started a job, and realized I had a lot to learn about this “being a grownup” stuff.  How should I attack the student debt?  What do I do with all these retirement plan options? WHAT DO I DO?!?!

So, that’s how it all started.

Well, this same friend told me that when she went through orientation on her first day of work, she also started having all these questions.  With new college hires getting training in the same class as experienced professionals, the topics discussed (401ks, health plans, etc.) were all things that the “grown ups” already knew about.  It felt awkward and confusing to try to learn when the “grown ups” were asking higher level questions about the benefits that the newbies didn’t even know about yet.  She wished there was a separate class just for the recent college grads so they could get into the basics and not feel intimidated.

She also wished there was a guidebook to life after college.

Well, here’s the thing.  There are TONS of books, blogs, websites, articles, etc. to guide you through your transition to being a grownup.  A lot of the personal finance blogs I’ve read over the years touch on these topics.  I consider my blog to be all about this, too.  After all, my blog is called Graduated Learning:  Life after College.  (Is it because I’m learning after graduation?  Or because I’m gradually learning new things?  MIND BLOWN!)  While I’ve touched on quite a few of these topics in the past, I figured I might as well kick off a new series to my blog.

That’s right.  Here it is.

A Graduate’s Guide to Being a Grownup.

I have a few specific topics in mind.  I’ll share what I know/learn, and invite comments on each post so others can share their thoughts, or ask more questions.  On this post, I invite you to comment with your own thoughts and ideas:

What do you wish had been explained to you when you graduated?  What did no one tell you on your first day of work that would have been helpful?  Are you a new graduate who has a million questions?  What resources have you found useful in your transition to the real world? (p.s. I’ve also heard really good things about Jenny Blake’s blog and book, Life After College)

If you’re a recent grad, or even a not-so-recent grad, I want to hear your questions!  We’ll get this figured out!

Commencement 2006

 

Money: 2012 Year in Review January 9, 2013

Filed under: General Blogging,Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 10:28 pm
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Happy New Year!  It’s 2013! I’ve been posting my yearly changes in assets and debts for the past few years now.  One thing I noticed this time around is that the changes in my liquid assets and my student loans are just about the same as they were last time around. How much did my assets and debts change this past year?  Check it out:

Assets:

  • Retirement (401(k), Roth IRA, Rollover IRA):  +$28,369
  • Car (edmunds.com private sale value): -$938 (I know there’s a lot of debate over including cars in net worth calculations.  I initially included it to make myself feel better about my auto loan, to balance out the ugly dip in my net worth).

Debts:

  • Credit cards: I pay them off every month, but if I want to be exact, I have $713 less to pay off as of the same time last year.

Change in net worth since last year:  +$55,194. Booya!

It turns out, I didn’t post very often.  Only 26 posts!  And quite a few of them talked about fitness.  That became quite a focus for me this year.  (More on that in a separate post).  Though I definitely thought about money and fitness together!

Looking back at my old personal finance related posts….remember the Approved Card from Suze Orman?  I wasn’t a fan.

I shared my story about getting into and (partially) out of student debt.

I confessed that I have a strange relationship with shopping, especially when it comes to Kohls.

I’m trying not to sweat the small stuff, and keep thinking about the big picture.

My nagging tendency was in full force when I told you that there were NO EXCUSES when it comes to opening an IRA.

I tackled the yearly concern of Benefits Open Enrollment.

I converted my traditional IRA into my Roth IRA.  Which also means that the networth numbers will be lowered in the next few months when I have to pay taxes on the converted amount.  Shhhhh.  Don’t worry, I have the money saved to pay the taxes, but we’ll recalculate things later.

And, even though this is more in the fitness than the personal finance category, I’m really glad I did the Walk For Hunger last year.  I look forward to doing it again in 2013!

I mused on twitter that I might try to pay off my entire student loan balance by the end of the year.  Not sure yet if I’ll actually do it, but I do have a plan in mind.  The cool part about that tweet?  The amazing, personal finance queen Gail Vaz-Oxlade replied to my tweet asking how I would do it!  So that might become a 2013 personal finance goal.

Happy New Year! How was your 2012?  What were your big events (positive or negative) for 2012?  What are your big plans for 2013!  Please share your own blog posts (if you have them) in the comments, I want to make sure I read all of your year-end wrap ups and your 2013 goals!

 

On not sweating the small stuff October 7, 2012

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 9:40 pm
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We’re often told not to sweat the small stuff.  And sometimes, it’s the small stuff that makes life that much better.  Grabbing coffee with a friend.  Getting pampered with a mani-pedi.  Going out on a double date with friends.  Or meeting up for beers at the local watering hole.

But at the same time, we hear the refrain from personal finance types:  Beware the latte effect!  Skip the salon!  Cook dinner at home!  Just order water or turn friends down!

It gets confusing.  On the one hand, I want to enjoy my life, and I think that, while there are plenty of things you can do for free, there’s lots of small stuff that does cost money (maybe $5, maybe $50).  But I don’t like having to stress about every expense.  Of course, all that money can add up.  All the little things you spend money on throughout the week (a cup of coffee, a few lunches, a cab ride or two) can start to make a decent dent in your wallet.

So, how do you weigh what’s actually important?  Or is it more important to cut out all spending when you’re in dire straights than it is once you’re on your feet and making decent money?

I sometimes feel guilty wanting to treat myself to something.  “I could put the $10 for this meal towards paying off my student loans”.  “Skipping the $4 ice cream sundae will probably help me lose weight and become a millionaire”.  I mean, I know that if I put that $4 into a savings account that somehow has an unobtainable interest rate, and I let it grow for 500 years, it’ll be worth millions.  But I also like going out for tasty crepes and hot fudge sundaes.

I go back and forth.  Some days I spend with abandon.  And by that I mean I go out for a few meals and buy a new dress.  Other days I force myself to walk away from a coffee shop or bakery.

So, which side do you lean to?  Saving every penny and aggressively saving and paying down debt?  Or do you treat yourself (or others)?  I’m wondering if it would help if I actually set a budget for “fun stuff” so that I’d know it’s okay to spend it.  How do you find the perfect balance and not sweat the small stuff?

 

Lose weight or lose debt: which would you choose? February 9, 2012

Filed under: Fitness,Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 8:11 pm
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Money on a Scale

I know that getting in physical shape and financial shape have some similarities.  You need to practice self-control, avoid giving into impulses.  And a big part of getting in shape (physically or financially) is balancing money (or calories) in vs. out.

Back in January, I asked a question of my twitter followers:

If you could wave a magic wand and either be at your ideal weight/fitness level or be debt free, which would you pick?

Well, what did my twitter friends have to say to this magic wish? Well, Brad (@bradkindercoach), Jenn (@payingmyself), Kristen(@thriftyandfit), Life Money Center (@lifemoneycenter) and Joe Taxpayer (@joetaxpayerblog) all said they’d want to be debt free (either because they had a mortgage, or because without debt they could pay for someone to whip them into shape!).  Jesse (@pffirewall) wanted to know how long the fitness would last, and only two respondents (@Metz77 and @FinancialSamura) opted to be magically made the perfect human specimen (Financial Samurai said “I’d rather be fit with debt”).

My “wish” was to magically be the perfect weight, in great shape, with toned muscles, and a decent running pace.  Wouldn’t that be great?

Why did I pick the physical over financial fitness?  Mostly because I already have a plan for how to eliminate my debt (eventually), and it’s definitely easier for me to prevent overspending than it is to prevent overeating.

We know how to be debt free:  pay off the debt, don’t incur more debt.  But at least for me, the answers for getting in shape seem a bit more elusive.  I know the basics:  eat healthy, don’t eat too much, exercise.  I understand that.  But it’s a lot easier (and less dangerous) to have a no-spend day than a no-eat day!  It just seems easier to “set it and forget it” with auto pay and making good money decisions.  So, even though the healthy body would be more difficult to maintain than a healthy net worth, I would love to have a good starting point (already at ideal fitness) and work from there.

I still owe over $33k on my student loans.  Would that mean I’d pay $33k to get into peak physical shape?  No.  I also know that wishing wont eliminate my debt or my flab overnight.  But I’m trying to get in shape, eat right, and exercise.  I’m actually starting to get in the habit of adding exercise to my day.  So that’s a start!

What about you?  Would you wish to rid yourself of debt or of fat?  Which do you think is easier to achieve and maintain?

 

Payoff.com: The Foursquare of Personal Finance September 26, 2011

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 11:18 pm
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I’m a big fan of trying out personal finance tools (please don’t call me a personal finance tool).

Most of you know about mint.com.  That seems to be one of the top sites among personal finance people (and “normal” people :P).  But there are A LOT account aggregators out there that let you import your accounts and track things.  They’re all a little different, and each have their own features and flaws.

Of all those sites, I’ve tried quite a few.  There’s Mint.com, of course.  More recently, I’ve been trying out LearnVest‘s new My Money Center.  And I’m also testing out Adaptu.  I’ll try to fully review those sites at a later time.

So, let’s get to the main topic of this post:  Payoff.com.

Like most of these account aggregators, once you sign up, you can enter your login info for your assorted accounts:  Credit cards, checking/saving accounts, loans (auto, student, mortgage, personal).  Don’t worry, like most other aggregators, they are very serious about security of your data.

A big part of Payoff’s system is setting goals.  You can set any number of goals, big or small.  Then link an account with that goal.   By working towards those goals, and doing other financially smart things, like finding out your credit score and saving up an emergency fun, you earn badges.  And for every badge you earn, you get an entry into their weekly Sur-prize drawing.  It’s a chance to win $15-25, just for being smart with your money!

So, what do I like about Payoff.com?

  • It’s free!  Always a good start when you’re trying to take control of your finances!  (As with many free sites, they have recommendations of accounts and websites to check out, but you’re not obligated to click on anything.  They’re just suggestions)
  • The gamification of personal finance encourages users to be smart with their money and achieve their goals
  • There’s a page for every badge.  Each page provides advice and guidance for how you can earn that badge, including next steps and links to related posts on the Payoff Blog.
  • The website is very playful and fun:
    • It’s fun to earn the badges, and the badges themselves have fun names, descriptions, and icons.    Look how many badges I’ve earned so far!
    •  The Sur-prizes are an awesome…well, surprise!  I actually won one a week or so ago!  It felt really good to be rewarded for doing good things with my money!
    • When there’s an error message, they show the background image upside down.  And when the site is down for maintenance, they show a night-time version of the background scene, with the message “Ssshhh! We’re taking a nap! Don’t worry. We should be awake and ready to play again in a little bit.”  That being said, I’ve only seen the down for maintenance page once at an ungodly hour when I shouldn’t have been awake.
  • They are very responsive to feedback.  I have tweeted @payoff a lot, and they respond really quickly!
  • They’ll categorize your expenses for you.  At first, I was wary of this, but so far, they seem to be doing pretty well with it.

So, are there any downsides?

  • Because the focus is on building up your savings and paying off your debt, there’s not as much of an emphasis on retirement accounts.  In fact, it looks like they don’t currently support retirement accounts in their account managers (they don’t have companies like Fidelity or Vanguard).
  • The expenses categorization isn’t always right.  And there currently isn’t a way to edit the categories (that I know of).
  • While it does show where you spend the most money, there aren’t a lot of budgeting tools.

Overall?  I don’t think I’d make it my only account manager.  I like the fuller capabilities of Mint.  But I do find myself more motivated to payoff my loans when I know I could get a badge for it!  And I think that it is really great for people just starting out on their personal finance journey.  It’s a simple site to use, and it provides positive reinforcement!

What about you?  Have you tried out Payoff.com?  What do you think of it?

p.s. I was not compensated for this post.  While I did win a Sur-Prize a few weeks back, that was unrelated to my decision to write about Payoff.com.  In fact, I’d been thinking about writing this for a while, but I wanted to spend some time fully checking it out.

 

Shopping will be my undoing July 6, 2010

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 9:02 pm
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To be honest, I never really considered myself a “shopaholic” (what, am I addicted to shopahol?)  I hate going clothes shopping by myself.  I require others to tell me that a dress or top looks good, otherwise I wont buy them.  I can buy jeans and dress pants on my own, but still hate doing it.  And don’t get me started on bathing suit and bra shopping.  Not fun!

So, I don’t tend to go shopping too often.  I’ll only go to the store if I’ve got a “need” for something (new dress, new pair of dress pants, etc.), and usually try to take advantage of extra sales or coupons available.  I’ve gone shopping with my younger sister (and my younger sister + mom), and also often times go out with my good friend Melissa, who has a keen eye for fashion and what works on someone.  So she and I have gone to the outlets on sale weekends to update my wardrobe.  But on those weekends I end up spending $300 or more.

So, I don’t go shopping a lot, but when I do, I tend to go nuts.  Especially if I’m using my credit card.  I’d probably spend a lot less if I bought clothes with cash because a) it’s more painful to actually see your money go away, b) I wouldn’t want to bring too much cash with me when I’m out and about, and c) I like it better if I’m getting rewards (either from store cards or my rewards credit card).

My other shopping weakness is gifts.  While I know that cost of a gift is not representative of your love for or friendship with the receiver, I feel the need to buy the right gifts.  I’ve recently been a slacker when it comes to Birthday gifts (and some wedding gifts) and end up sending them late, but even then, I buy a lot.  Probably I spend even more because I feel a little guilty for sending gifts late.  I am a lot more likely to spend money on gifts for other people than on things I want for myself.  I rationalize spending on others readily.

The good news is that I tend not to get gifts for people unless there’s an associated event.  So, some months I spend a lot less (no birthdays/holidays).  Though I have bought things “just because”…so I should watch out for that.

Overall, I don’t spend a lot of money.  But excluding my necessary expenses (i.e. rent, utilities, loan payments, gas), my gift expenses tend to add up.

Do you have a shopping problem?  Do you store up your shopping until you can do it all at once, or do you buy the occasional item when necessary?  Any tips on reducing spending?

 

Fighting lifestyle inflation June 20, 2010

Filed under: Careers,Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 12:02 pm
Tags: , , , ,

So I forgot to mention something back when it happened.  I got a raise!  Yeah, it somehow slipped my mind.  But I’m not just bragging about it.  I’ve got a personal finance lesson in here!

Remember when I modified my 401(k) contributions?  I upped my contribution by 1%.  A week or two later, I found out about my raise, and then a few more weeks later, my raise kicked in.  I noticed that, even though I increased my contribution, my take home pay went up with my raise.  I did a little math and figured out the difference between my newest paycheck amount and my old paycheck amount.  Since I get paid every other week, I set my ING Direct Savings account to remove that amount from my regular checking account every other week.  That way, I wouldn’t see the money in my checking account, so I’d be less inclined to spend it.  Plus, I’ve directed this money towards my “Down Payment Fund“, so that is an added bonus.  Only tens of thousands more, and I can afford a down payment! :P

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been thinking of doing something else with money besides putting it into savings.  So, perhaps, I might redirect the “extra” money from my paycheck towards paying off my loans.  Or upping my 401(k) yet again.  Still figuring that stuff out, but I’ll update with another post soon about what I’ve figured out (or at least what I’m doing so far).

 

Gas gas gas! October 1, 2008

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 10:35 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Today I did something that I’ve never done before.  It may come as a surprise…but today I pumped my own gas.  For the first time.  Ever.

Yes.  It’s true.  Now, I’m not a spoiled or lazy limo rider or something like that.  I got my license in New Jersey, one of the few states where you can’t pump your own gas.  And I rarely drove in high school anyways.  Take four years living in dorms in Cambridge, and two years taking public transportation, and you have a girl who didn’t really need a car.  And whenever I did need gas (borrowing my boyfriend’s car on occasion), the nearby station had full serve (and the cheapest gas in the area), so I didn’t have to pump my gas there, either.

And so today came…I was halfway through my drive to work when I noticed “the light” go on.  You know, the warning light that says that you only have a gallon or two left in your tank.  By the time I got to work, the needle on the gas gauge was nearing the zero line.  I hopped online briefly and took a look at GasBuddy to see what the prices were for gas in the area.  And since the nearest gas station to work was a little pricey, I bought a few gallons to make sure I got home, and rode the rest of the way home feeling a lot safer knowing I wasn’t running on fumes.

The funny/sad part is, I probably could have made it home…or at least known if I could make it home, had I read a little further into my owners manual.  When looking at the manual to see what gas level the warning light signified, I saw something about other information besides speed, miles, etc. on my dashboard.  I figured that was only an option for the “fancier” version of my car.  But nope, it turns out my car has all sorts of information!  While one meter shows the odometer and a few “trip” odometers, the other meter shows, among other things, the time, the outside temperature, instantaneous mpg, average mpg, and, the one that would have helped me out:  miles left on the tank.  Yep, they have an estimate for how much farther I could have gone.  But I didn’t try that out until after I’d gotten some gas.  Well, I guess now I know for future reference.

The mpg information is pretty cool, too.  The instantaneous mpg value fluctuates quite a bit, which makes sense (based on your speed, incline, gear, etc.).  The coolest moment was when I saw the reading go up to 99 mpg.  Yep.  It was pretty cool.  It was only on there for a moment, but I was kind of excited about that.  And I’m glad to report that my average mpg is above 30.  I don’t remember exactly what it’s at, but it’s pretty good.

So, there you have it.  I’ve finally pumped gas.  It’s really not hard at all!  I’ll keep you posted about the gas mileage I’m getting!

 

Loan payments getting real September 30, 2008

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 10:31 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I came home on Monday to see a few important-looking pieces of mail on my kitchen table.  And they both had to do with my new car.  One was the official paperwork from my car insurance.  I’ll admit, I’m not quite sure I understand everything relating to my car insurance.  It’s possible that I didn’t get a good deal, or that I got the wrong sort of coverage.  I’ve decided that reading through the information can wait until this weekend, when I can actually work through it to make sure I understand what’s covered and if I got all the correct discounts and everything.

The other piece of mail came from the credit union that I got my car loan from (through AAA).  I think this piece of mail really made the payments hit home.  I received my “Loan Payment Book”.  It’s basically a booklet with tear out pages with the amount due that I’ll send in every month.  I’m pretty sure that I can do this online (not 100% certain), but hopefully that’s the case, as I’m not really keen on paying for postage every month, and risk not paying on time.  I realized that there are two different ways to look at this booklet.  I can either look at it and feel overwhelmed:  look at all these payments that I’ve got due each month.  I’m going to be paying for this car (with interest) until almost the end of 2013.  Or I can look at it as an easy thing to accomplish:  I’ve only got to pay this amount 60 times, and then I own the car free and clear.  Granted, either way I look at it, I’m hoping I can pay this off sooner, which will lower the total amount I’ll end up paying.  But it’s definitely a visual plan that will help me to see progress towards owning my car.

So, we’ll see.  I’ve mentioned in the past that I hope to pay down all my debts a lot faster than the banks would like me to.  But this does make me realize that I should actually have a plan for paying off my debts.  I know plenty of people talk about debt snowballing, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a link from another blog to this before, but there’s a pretty simple site to help you figure out just how long it will take to pay everything off.  Now, instead of telling myself (and you all) that I’m going to pay “extra” every month, I can actually look and see what amount I should pay.  Sounds like this could actually provide results.

One can only hope!

 

Giving Mint a try September 29, 2008

So all those people in the personal finance blogosphere have been talking about Mint for a while.  I figured I already was using enough different ways to track my money:  I use walletproof to track my expenses pretty closely, and watch My Portfolio from Bank of America, and follow my networth on NetworthIQ.  I’ve tracked my 401(k) and other retirement accounts on Google Finance.  So, you could say I enjoy tracking my money.  I think I like it in part to see what sort of progress I’m making towards paying off debts and growing my net worth.  I also find that tracking my expenses keeps me on top of my spending.  And I think I’ve found that I use different sites since none of them quite fit all my needs.  I like walletproof because it’s simple and helps me to monitor my spending; manual data entry makes me aware of what I’m spending, but I might still forget to enter some of my expenses.  My Portfolio tracks rather nicely most of my assets and liabilities, but sometimes it’s hard to categorize every transaction.  NetworthIQ requires manual data entry, but I do that once a month.  This means I’ve got a static number that can be compared each month, as opposed to the dynamic values found in the automatically updated amounts in My Portfolio.

I had actually created an account with Mint in November of 2007, but I got nervous about security, so I didn’t enter any of my account information into the site.  Then, a few weeks ago, I figured I should go ahead and give it a try.  Actually, just today, I came across a post helping to debunk some Mint myths.

The one weird part I’ve noticed is that it only imported some of my recent account transactions, but also imported a few that are a lot older.  I’m also looking forward to when they have a more in-depth analysis of investments and retirement portfolios.  And I’ve also found some of the categories to be odd or missing, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to add extra categories.  For example, I want to label my T-pass purchases as Transportation, but the closest I can label it is Travel.  It’s not a really big deal, but I’d like to have more accurate descriptions of my transactions.  I do like the analysis features, as well as the automatic data retrieval.  I do find it odd that, when you are able to compare your expenses to big cities, Boston isn’t listed.  But that’s a minor issue.  At any rate, I think I’ll add it to my list of financial tools.

One thing that I think comes up a lot with these sites, besides security concerns, is the inability to import some of your accounts.  Of my friends that use Mint or My Portfolio, a few (including a blogger or two) aren’t able to add accounts/debts from smaller organizations.  I’m sure that both companies are working on including more, but in the meantime, you’ll have to enter the numbers manually every month for My Portfolio (and I’m not sure if there’s an option like that for Mint).

On a related note, has anyone else had issues with My Portfolio, specifically with updating imported ING accounts?  I’ve found that it wants me to re-enter my login information, but when I do, it still doesn’t work.

How do you keep track of your money (or lack thereof)?  I know Penny was asking the same thing a while back (and heard from quite a few people!)  But I’m curious as well!  And I’d love to hear if anyone has that My Portfolio/ING thing figured out.

 

 
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