College Grad Money Tips– First Paycheck or Not

College Grad Money Tips– First Paycheck or Not

You’ve just finished college and you’re ready to dive into the next phase of life… except you’re at home, in quarantine, amidst a global health and economic crisis. Times are tough. But whether you have a job or you’re one of millions of unemployed Americans – recent grads and experienced workers alike – use this time to set yourself up for future financial success.

Person holding tablet

Establish a budget
Whether or not you have a new full-time job, setting up a budget is a fundamental first step. You can use the resources your financial institution has available, look up some websites1, or make your own. Starting with the money that goes into savings and accounting for bills and other fixed expenses, you’ll then know exactly how much money you have left over to spend freely.

Learn about investing and retirement
Now is the time to read up on 401(k)s, IRA and Roth IRAs, and learn the basics of investing. When you finally get your first paycheck, try to allocate at least 20% of it toward savings – investing it in a retirement account and/or a high-yield savings account like Affinity’s SmartStart savings account. If you develop smart savings habits now, you may be shocked by how much money you can save for retirement and other long-term goals.

Prioritize your debt and savings goals
For some, you may be in a grace period for student loan repayment, take the opportunity to add any extra cash into an emergency fund. After that, however, choosing where to put the rest of your money can be daunting. The balance between paying off debt and building up savings is always tricky, which is why you should list it all out then prioritize the items that seem most important to you. You could even set up a free consultation with a financial expert to help you get started.

Consider short-term work, side gigs or jobs outside your area of expertise
If you can’t afford to take time off while job hunting, consider getting short-term, part-time or odd jobs while you manage this uncertain period. It will help you maintain a bit of cash flow while gaining experience that could benefit your resume2, if only by showing employers you were resourceful and resilient during COVID-19. You invested a lot of time, money and brain power earning your degree; eventually, you’ll land your dream job but in the meantime, get creative.

Focus on credit and credit card management
Did you graduate college with good credit card habits? If you’re carrying balances on more than one credit card, take the next few months to be intentional about paying them down. Also, get in the habit of paying off your balance in full every month, if you can; if not, at least try to stay under 30% of your available credit limit. Since you’re likely spending less on travel and other expenses right now, you have a unique opportunity to pay down, or even pay off, your credit card debt. This could work wonders on your credit score – which could be helpful if you know you’ll need to rent a new place or finance a new car anytime soon.

Enjoy life
The concept of learning money management while trying to land – and then start – your first job might be stress-inducing at first, but you should focus on the big picture. You’re working now to set yourself up for a lifetime of financial wellness; take the time to find a system that works best for you. However, don’t get too caught up worrying about money that you forget it is meant to help you live life and enjoy it.

Graduation is a major milestone. Be proud. Yes, COVID-19 is disrupting life and business plans, but it won’t last forever. You will get to feel the excitement of your first paycheck in your first post-grad job, whether it’s now or down the road.

For additional information and updates from Affinity about COVID-19, please visit're-here-for-you.aspx


This information is for informational purposes only and is intended to provide general guidance and does not constitute legal, tax, or financial advice. Each person’s circumstances are different and may not apply to the specific information provided. You should seek the advice of a financial professional, tax consultant, and/or legal counsel to discuss your specific needs before making any financial or other commitments regarding the matters related to your condition are made.  

1 Retrieved from

2 Retrieved from