Getting green

Your parents cut you off. Now what?

With graduation less than three months away and the job market looking lean, many seniors find themselves stuck wondering how they’ll be able to get by in the real world without that high-paying job they had their eye on when they applied to GW four years ago. They can take comfort, however, in knowing that even without a big annual salary, they can still become financially independent through financial planning and careful investment.

“After getting a job, (I will) definitely be paying off my debts,” said senior Matt Gula on what he thinks is the most important consideration after graduation.

Students should think twice before whipping out that MasterCard to pay their bills. It’s really easy to buy now and worry later, but debt can accumulate fast, and it’s often hard to get rid of.

“I don’t feel the need for [a credit card]. I have my debit card- it’s easier to keep track of my money with that,” said freshman Anne Pessala.

Many credit cards offer the option to pay a minimum balance each month, which is usually around 10-15 percent of the total bill. In addition, the company charges interest on the unpaid portion. This means a $3,000 credit card bill could take as long as 39 years to pay off, according to Karen Brooms, a Citibank Financial Advisor. Credit card companies, she said, prey on college students who don’t understand how serious debt can be. She also advises students to avoid having more than one credit card.

Good credit is important when working toward a major purchase like a house or a car, but it isn’t enough. Even while worrying about rent, student loans and newfound independence, now is the time to start saving for the future. Everything from that first efficiency to a dream house in Tahiti will come that much easier with a plan to save money and the determination to stick to it.

Don’t waste time sinking money into stocks (unless you’re a finance major or you have an amazing broker). Instead, both Nathan Crozier, a senior student financial assistance counselor with GW Student Financial Aid, and Brooms advocate putting money in low risk bonds, mutual funds and individual retirement accounts and allowing them to slowly and steadily grow over time. Rather than relying on a future economic boom to bolster salaries and allow everyone to make a bundle in the stock market again, it is wise to start planning now for steady, sustained growth.

Once a graduate starts saving for the future, it is important to ensure the plan doesn’t end up long forgotten at the bottom of a giant to-do list. Students should start by going over their bills and figuring out how much they spend each month on food, rent, clothes, etc. and what percentage of their income each category consumes. This is the student’s monthly budget, and once the student can see how much they spend, they can begin modifying their spending habits and setting both long- and short-term savings goals.

“I have a weekly budget for food, rent and the things I absolutely need. The rest I hang onto … (the money I save is) just there for whatever comes, for the future,” senior Tracy Marion said.

Crozier advocated a strategy called the 60-40 plan. Under this plan, 60 percent of all income should be devoted to necessary things (rent, food, utilities etc.). The other 40 percent should be split evenly between long-term savings, short-term savings, investments and discretionary spending, which can include anything from a trip to the movies to a nice pair of shoes.

While it may seem like it could take a lot of will power to stick to a budget, there are a few tricks that can help starving students stay on track. Online banking and direct deposit can both be huge assets when it comes to managing one’s finances. If possible, a student should have his deposit split between a checking account for bills and discretionary money and a savings account that isn’t touched. If the money is never seen, then the temptation to spend it is reduced. Once a student gets used to putting money away, it’ll gradually get easier and easier to stay within budget.

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