Paycheck 101: A College Grad's Guide

By Mary Hunt

August 3, 2016 5 min read

There you are, a college graduate with your newly minted degree in one hand and new job in the other — or the confidence that you will have one soon. For years you've waited for a real job with a real paycheck so you could get a decent car, apartment and a respectable wardrobe. After all, these are the things you so richly deserve for having nearly starved to death for lo these many years.

Well, not so fast, Buckaroo. Before you do a thing we need to go over the fundamentals of managing a paycheck — a small detail that may have been overlooked in the courses you took to prepare you for the real world.

When Net Is Gross

You may have figured your annual salary — a number that has you seeing dollar signs. That is your gross salary. Do not fall in love with it. A $35,000 annual salary, when reduced by 30 percent for "withholding" for taxes, Social Security, etc., then divided in to 52 weekly paychecks, suddenly looks more like $470.

As an adult wage earner it is important that you adopt a personal standard for the management of your paychecks. It is not how much you earn that matters. It is how much you keep. Make it a personal rule that you will live on 80 percent of your net income, whatever that amount might be. Get used to this now and you'll breeze through life as your income grows. Ignore this wisdom by living on more than you earn and your suffering has only just begun.

Your Expenses

You need to get a handle on your true expenses starting with absolute essentials. I can predict some of them for you: shelter, food, insurance, travel expenses. You may have other essential expenses if you have arrived at your first job dragging a load of debt behind you, in which case you need to consider your student loan payment and credit card payment as essential expenses.

No New Wheels

If there is one critical mistake you could easily make at this time, it would be to either buy or lease a new car. Get that idea out of your head! You cannot afford a car payment. You have survived this long with that old clunker, and can do that for a while longer.

No Fancy Pad

If you cannot find a housing situation with a roommate (or several roommates to keep your expenses low), consider moving back home for a while, if they will have you. Take it from me, the parent of adult children: If you come home with a grateful spirit, do your own laundry, clean up after yourself, carry your weight in household chores, act pleasantly, help with meals and do nice things for your parents — you will be welcomed with open arms. At least until you get on your feet.

Get Off the Plastic

Yes, I am aware that you have a credit card. And if you begin to see it as part of your available cash resources, you'll be dead in the water. This is why I want you to put that thing away. Far away, and in a safe place. Your carefree years of living on the plastic are over.

Face the Music

If you have student loans, you may have a six-month grace period before you must begin making repayment. But you do not have to wait that long. Start now and you'll pay less interest. You will learn from your lender that there are multiple payment plans. Go to the Federal Student Aid website to learn more.

In conclusion, one of the most valuable aspects of your education was learning how to live on next to nothing. You may need to do that for a few more years as you get your financial bearings.

If you follow what I say, one day you will thank me. And as a bonus, you'll find financial freedom while you are still young.

Mary invites questions, comments and tips at [email protected], or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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