Financial tips for the college Class of 2021 from someone who knows

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Members of the college Class of 2021 are finally getting their diplomas after spending their entire senior year navigating a pandemic.

Like the rest of us, they're hoping life will soon return to the pre-pandemic normal.

And that normal, according to money advisers, should include learning basic financial planning especially since many in the Class of '21 are ready to put the pandemic behind them and transition into the working world.

"The first step in making any kind of transition, especially one that's going to impact you financially, is to go ahead and start planning," Darian Billingsley said.

She knows what she's talking about.

It was just four years ago she graduated from North Carolina State University.

Now, she is a CFP, certified financial planner at Financial Symmetry in Raleigh and handing out advice she had to learn on her own.

"Some of the big things that start to change after you graduate and as you are adjusting to a new job are your expenses," she said.

That will have an effect on the first big decision that college grads will make about whether to get a place of their own or continue to live at home, according to Billingsley who said, "If you can kind of stay at home for a couple months, I would say do that. The main reason is that you can kind of start planning in terms of what expenses to move out might be and therefore start building up an emergency fund."

That emergency fund should include two months' worth of food, utilities, and rent Billingsley said, and she adding that also means setting up a budget.

"It's a pain sometimes for some people," she said adding, "It's not something anyone wants to sit down and do. But I think that as you're more aware of your financial situation, as you're more aware of your spending, that empowers you to make those decisions such as, should I begin renting or should I be looking to buy a home."

Billingsley notes that buying a home early in your career can tie you down because it is usually not a profitable venture if you don't own for at least five years.

That may not be practical early in your career when you may have to move quickly to another area.

But her No. 1 piece of advice is don't turn down free money such as 401(k) retirement account funds available from your employer.

"If you're lucky, you automatically get matching benefits with your employer right away. I would take the opportunity to seize that and go ahead and start setting aside at least the matching portion, when you start out with your job," Billingsley said.

She also recommended you immediately start learning to save at least 10% of your income.

But she said you should leave yourself at least a small amount of discretionary cash or fun money.

Because those who work hard and plan financially also deserve to play.
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