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Many recent college grads aren’t that good with money, and it shows; more often than not they are under-insured, have little to no savings for the future or even an emergency, and carry a heavy load of credit card and student debt. Failing to address financial problems early on can limit your success over the long term. It doesn’t have to be that way, however.

Here are five money tips to consider after you get your degree and set out for the real world.

Make A Plan

People don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan, the cliché goes. While it is trite, it is also true. Most people don’t set short and long term goals for themselves, financial or otherwise. For recent college grads, that can mean settling for the first job that comes along and racking up more debt in the form of car loans, credit cards, and the like.

You can forego all of this chaos by determining realistic short and long-term goals for yourself, and routinely assess how close you are to meeting them. This will help you resist binge spending and enable you to determine whether or not you are doing what you need to do to achieve your lifetime goals.

Set a Budget

One of the best ways to secure your financial security is to set a budget. Calculate all of your weekly, monthly, and annual expenses and determine the best ways to allocate your cash inflows to meet them, and save and invest for the future. 

Your budget can help you determine whether or not you can afford to purchase something, or where you can cut some expenses to save more for an item you want to purchase. It is easy to find spreadsheet household budgets online, so download one and take control of your finances today.

Avoid and Reduce Debt

Chances are you are already saddled with student loans, most college graduates are. Strive to pay off these loans, and work to keep other debt at an absolute minimum. Excessive debt leads to high-interest payments, which decreases your ability to save and invest for the future.

Avoid credit card debt if at all possible; pay off your credit card debt as soon as you are able, and, once paid off, keep it at a zero balance. You should also consult your budget before taking on debt like car loans and mortgages, and ensure that the monthly payments are not going to starkly limit your flexibility to meet all your monthly obligations or spend money on things you enjoy.

Prepare for Retirement

It is never too early to start retirement planning. However, more and more Americans have failed to do so, and have wound up working into their late sixties and beyond. The earlier you begin saving for retirement, the sooner you’ll be able to retire on your own terms. 

If you have a job already, take advantage of your company’s retirement plan. If you are still looking, consider each company’s retirement plan as a major factor in deciding upon a place of work. And if you have yet to find a job, or are self-employed, review the various retirement plan options that are available for you, and plan accordingly.

Be Thrifty

One of the best ways to get the most out of your money is to be careful spending it. If you master the art of thrift, you can enjoy life, do more, and spend less. Packing a lunch instead of heading out to a restaurant five days a week, for instance, can save you significant money each month. Similarly, shopping at discount stores and using coupons wisely can help lower your grocery expenditures.

Routinely shopping at thrift stores can lead to deep discounts on otherwise expensive clothing and other household items as well. The money you save by being a bit more thrifty will not only help you get more for each hard earned dollar; it will also free up money that you can allocate elsewhere to save and invest for the future.

William Lipovsky owns the personal finance website First Quarter Finance. His most embarrassing moment was telling a Microsoft executive, "I'll just Google it."

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