Graduating college is an exciting moment for anyone. I know it certainly was for me. I came out of it with a bachelor’s degree, high hopes for the future — and a heaping amount of student debt waiting to be paid off.
As I delved into the world of landing my first post-grad job and navigating my finances (while accounting for my student loan bill), I definitely made my fair share of financial mistakes.
Looking back, it’s hard to swallow the many money mistakes I made. But knowing now the things I would’ve done differently has helped me move forward with a better money mindset.
6 Financial Mistakes I Made as a New Grad
Making financial mistakes in your 20s is to be expected. And while it’s hard to accept that you’ve made mistakes, learning from them is the best thing you can do.
I hope you’re able to glean some inspiration from the money mistakes I made as a new grad — and avoid making them yourself.
Rushing into Further Education Opportunities
Out of fear of the unknown, I rushed into continuing education opportunities right after earning my undergraduate degree. I was panicked at the prospect of entering the world of work without the safety net academia had provided me the past four years.
I paid for application fees to grad school programs and even registered in a couple of online college courses. I thought I needed more qualifications. I thought I needed something more. Maybe even a totally new career path.
While it is more than okay to explore your options, especially when you’re in your 20s, rushing into any decision like that poses a financial risk. I ended up not going to grad school and dropping out of my online courses.
Instead I built up my work experience for my resume, which was much better for my life and wallet than the courses were.
Read more: Are graduate programs worth the cost?
Not Setting Aside Freelance Income to Pay Taxes
I’ve been freelancing since before I even graduated from college. And honestly, I think it’s a great option for recent grads — you can gain some experience and earn money in whichever field you choose.
But during my job hunt, I ended up taking on a lot more freelance work to support myself. I sent out pitches for articles, contacted editors at publications I wanted to write for, and was constantly writing down ideas that might be able to turn into a gig.
And then I made a big financial mistake: I didn’t set aside any of my income to pay my taxes. I was new to the world of self-employment and I should have done my research and gone into it more prepared. Because I now had a big tax bill to pay, which totally threw me for a loop.
When tax season rolled around, I was overwhelmed by what I owed, as well as the very process of filing my taxes as a self-employed person. Had I taken the time to consider what paying taxes as a freelancer would be like, I would have been able to set aside money to account for the cost beforehand.
Not Accounting for Monthly Account Fees in my Budget
When creating my post-grad budget, I neglected to consider monthly checking account fees, which quickly caught up to me. I had a student bank account prior to graduating, which incurred no fees.
And while the fees were certainly not much at a glance (around $20) they quickly added up each month that I didn’t account for them in my budget.
I wish I had taken a closer look at how my finances would change as I graduated. The most obvious factor – paying off my student loans — was on my mind, but small things slipped through the cracks.
Read more: Best No-fee Checking Accounts
Thinking I was Too Young to Invest
A big money mistake that many people make is discrediting their ability to invest. At least I know this was the case for me!
Investing is a scary word for some. It seems like such an intimidating and involved financial endeavor. And while you may have a bit of a learning curve, the biggest investing mistake is not investing at all.
Even if I only invested small amounts of money, I would have been able to get a solid start on my savings and gain some familiarity with the world of investing.
Neglecting My Retirement
Similar to investing, I thought I was too young to open a retirement account. I put it off without realizing the ways it could begin earning money even just within two years — not to mention the tax advantages!
To be honest, it was tax season that urged me to look into opening a retirement plan. I wish it didn’t take a big tax bill to steer me in the right direction, but nevertheless, it did.
If I could go back in time, I’d probably set up an appointment with my bank straight out of graduation to talk through my hesitations and have some professional advice on what forms of investing and saving might be fit for me as a new grad.
Impulse Spending When Things Got Tough
As a new grad, I was regularly defeated by the job world. I applied for a ton of positions, interviewed at multiple stages, and still, the job would go to a candidate with more experience. It’s hard to feel motivated in your career when you’re at the starting line and just hoping someone will take a chance on you.
With every rejection came the urge to buy something that would make me temporarily feel good.
I regret leaning into the impulse rather than practicing self-care or planning my next moves. Mental health and finances are inextricably connected. And I think the financial mistakes you make in your 20s are a good example of that.
It is a vulnerable, whirlwind time in your life and it’s hard to avoid dropping cash on something you really want — whether it be a big takeout order or a pair of shoes — just to fill the void of your seemingly endless job search.
But looking back, had I instead taken some time to be mindful and take care of myself and my finances, I would’ve felt a lot better. So, maybe try a nice quiet bath, grab a pen and paper and write out your career goals, or even drop the cash you were going to spend unnecessarily into an emergency fund.
It’s OK to Make Financial Mistakes…
… as long as you try your best to learn from them.
Making financial mistakes in your 20s is bound to happen. But turning those mistakes into lessons that will improve your future financial wellness is a choice you can and should make. Chances are, much like myself, with time you’ll come to realize things you could have done better, and you can try again.
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