Financial Basics for New Grads

You're just starting your life as a graduate -- but the odds are you never took a course in personal finance. And I'm talking about college grads as well as teens getting out of high school. If you follow this advice, you'll get going in the right direction. So here are five secrets to financial success. If you know a young person, please share this column.

1. Live below your means. That's so simple and basic. It's a lesson that people used to learn from their parents or grandparents -- the ones who remembered the hardships of the depression era. Today it's easy to use a simple program like Quicken or the free money tracking service of, so you always know what you're spending on every category. Never spend more than you earn --after taxes
2. Make savings automatic. We can all spend as much money as we earn. But if you don't see it, you won't spend it. Don't rely on self-discipline. Have money automatically deducted from your checking account, and moved to an investment or savings account. The Acorns app will do that for you, rounding up your purchases to the next dollar, and automatically moving that small change into an investment portfolio.

3. Understand the benefits -and dangers -of credit. Yes, you need to establish credit - but do that by getting a "secured card" -- backed by a savings deposit of $300 or more at a card-issuing bank. Search for secured cards at

Then charge a small amount every month -- and be sure to pay on time and in full. The card issuer will report your good habits to the credit bureaus -- and soon you'll receive more card offers. But beware of having more than one card, and remember that if the card comes with a high credit limit, that doesn't mean you should use it!

A reminder: Paying only the minimums means you could pay triple the purchase price in interest, and pay for as long as 30 years!

4. Set goals. Be specific with yourself. Then make a savings plan to reach that goal, or multiple goals. Yes, you'll find out you can't have everything immediately. But remember, a goal without a plan is just a dream!

5. Earn more.
This sounds like a flippant piece of advice. But it's really the basis on which you can build financial security. Generations of immigrants have done that, because they felt that nothing was beneath them. You might have a starter job in the field that most interests you. But don't be afraid to take a second, perhaps tiring and more menial job on the weekends. It's that "extra" money that you can put to work for you -- so that one day you can cut back and let your money work for you as hard as you worked for it!

It's tempting to think that there's some special secret to becoming financially secure. It does make sense to use your talents in growing fields, such as technology. But some great fortunes have been built out of simple ideas. Luck plays a part -- but even the best luck won't help you succeed if you don't have a firm financial footing. And that's The Savage Truth.

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