Do you feel like your head is spinning with all of the possibilities and responsibilities of your new post-grad life? You're not alone!
While it may feel overwhelming at first, this is the time to establish good financial habits so that you don't fear your bank account in the future. Personal finance is well, um, personal! Take these money tips and use them to create a money management plan that works for you and your lifestyle.
There are four specific goals you want to set for yourself after leaving university. Don't stress — working on these goals is a daily effort. You aren't going to be able to conquer them all in your first year as a grad, but it's a good idea to start thinking about these:
- Create a livable budget: Don't groan when you hear the word budget. Establishing a budget doesn't have to mean giving up all the fun spending. Instead, you devote your income to your life priorities. Plus, apps like Scotia Smart Money by Advice+ do all the math for you automatically; simply sign up for the free tool on your personal account and it will give you a customized look into how much you're really spending each month.*
- Establish an emergency fund: Experts recommend having enough funds in your emergency fund to cover at least three to six months of your living expenses. Though ideal, this might not be an option for you right away. However, keep in mind that any emergency fund is better than none. Starting small but sticking with it will have a big impact.
- Minimize your debt load: Loans and personal lines of credit can be helpful tools in achieving certain financial goals, such as getting you through university. However, you want to rely on them only when necessary and in a financially responsible matter. When it comes to your credit cards, rewards credit cards are an excellent way to earn rewards (like Scene+™ points) on your groceries, movies and other fun stuff, but you should only spend what you can pay off at the end of the month.
- Invest a portion of your income: Invest now and your future self will thank you. Even investing $100 a month or your birthday money can make an impact on your savings. Learning about investing using a pre-authorized contributions (PAC) strategy could help start you up right.
Common budgeting mistakes and how to avoid them
Remember when getting mail as a child was exciting? Now that you're a young adult, you'll be getting a lot of mail, but unfortunately, it's mostly bills. Welcome to adulthood!
When working on your budget, you can expect the following living expenses to be due each month:
- Rent: This varies by which province you live in and how many people are sharing your space. In the city of Toronto, expect to pay around $1,200 for a bachelor apartment, or about $800 if you're sharing a two-bedroom apartment with a another person.1
- Transportation and car insurance: If you own your own vehicle, this will be your second-largest budget category. Even if you rideshare or take public transportation, this budget area can add up. Your auto costs will vary based on your vehicle, and you can easily figure them out with the CAA Driving Cost Calculator. For example, the estimated yearly cost for a new 2022 Toyota Corolla is $5,703. This total includes just over $1,600 for insurance, $700 for maintenance, and almost $400 for monthly loan payments.2
- Utilities: This category includes your cell phone plan, internet, cable/streaming services and more. Depending on your rental contract, you might also be responsible for paying expenses like water, garbage disposal services and electricity. If possible, try to keep this category between $100 to $200, especially if you're splitting these bills with roommates.
- Groceries and eating out: Weekly grocery trips can add up to $400 to $5003 of expenses per person each month. Eating out is the real budget kicker though. Grabbing a drink after work or during happy hour is a great way to network, but if you aren't careful, you can easily spend over $500 a month on bar tabs and takeout.
- Loan repayments and other debt: Most lenders offer a grace period for student loan repayment of six months to a year to recent graduates. When working on your budgeting plan, it's a good idea to find out those details. Staying on top of these monthly payments can help you build good credit history.
Divvying up your paycheque into spending categories might not be your idea of a good time, but it's important. Being mindful of what you spend each month will significantly decrease your money stress and help you reach your financial goals sooner.
A solid budgeting rule of thumb for everyone, new graduates and individuals established in their careers alike, is the 50/30/20 rule. Simply put, 50% of your take-home pay goes to necessities, 30% can be spent on wants and the last 20% goes to debt repayment and investing. So, what does this look like in real life?
Say your new job pays $57,978.4 That's like having a monthly income of $3,501 after taxes if you live in Alberta.5 This means you should be spending the following:
- $1,750 on essentials like living expenses, transportation, groceries and utilities.
- $1,050 for wants like eating out, entertainment, clothing, makeup and trips.
- $701 towards your student loan or credit card debt and saving for retirement.
While this is all good in theory, what if it isn't enough money? Financial advice always looks nice and tidy on paper, but living it out can be a little trickier. It's okay if your budget doesn't fit this exact ratio each month — as long as your budget has a realistic goal that works for your finances, then don't stress the exact percentages too much. Remember, guidelines are only recommendations; you know what works best for your life right now.
If your current expenses are driving you deeper into debt each month, though, it might be time to re-evaluate your needs versus wants. Budgets aren't meant to squash your fun, but if you continue to increase your debt load while you're young, it can keep you from amazing opportunities in the future, such as traveling the world, buying a home or starting a business.
There are several resources to help you manage and repay your debt. Apply through the Canadian government for repayment assistance or lowered monthly bills for government-issued loans. If you have private student loan debt, you could look into refinancing your loans at lower interest rates to make payments more manageable.
Once you have a lowered student debt bill, throw everything you have at it. If you get a work bonus or are still lucky enough to get birthday cheques from grandma, put it towards debt. Consider getting a weekend side hustle like babysitting or tutoring so that you can pay more than the minimum monthly payment and see faster progress on your debt repayment
It's hard to think about investing when you've got other priorities now. But even when you feel stretched for cash, don't miss the opportunity to grow your money early. One of the most important things you can do upon graduation is to invest a portion of every paycheque.
It's as simple as investing 1% of your paycheque towards a mix of short-term and long-term investments. Make it a goal to move up a percentage each year or when you feel comfortable. After your first few years of investing 1-5% of your paycheque you will start to see significant growth in your investments.
A financial planner can help you make the most of your investments now and guide you to the right stock purchases. Using a free practice investment account will help you better understand how the stock market works and how to diversify your stocks.
There's no better moment to start planning your retirement savings than now. You have the gift of time on your side, even if you're still waiting to find your dream career. You can start by saving a smaller percentage of your paycheque and have it compound to a substantial amount of money by the time you hit your 60s. If you wait to start your retirement account when you are in your 30s or 40s, you'll have to save more of your paycheque and your contributions will have less time to compound. Best of all, contributing to your retirement plan gives you a much-needed tax break come spring.
This retireme Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSP) Maximize your retirement savings with tax benefits on your in nt savings calculator shows the power of compound interest through different scenarios.
If you're 25 and put $500 in your retirement savings today plus contribute $150 bi-weekly until you are 65, your account will grow to $728,000. Wait a decade to start your account with the same contributions, and you'll only have $370,000 for retirement. In fact, you'll need to contribute almost double to catch up with the 25-year-old's modest contributions. A Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) offers many choices — many simple to set and forget today.
The fact that you are researching money tips means you're serious about securing a healthy financial future for yourself. Don't grow discouraged or assume you'll clean up your finances when you land your dream job. Good credit and financial habits start with smart money decisions today.