College grads: Top 5 financial mistakes – and how to avoid them

Experimenting with money – spending and managing it – is a college freedom that can quickly get out of hand. I should know; I graduated recently and my college financial habits over those four years had me drowning in debt after graduation. With unemployment high and an average debt load of more than $29,000, the Class of 2011 needs to be especially savvy about money as it moves into the working world. Here are five big financial mistakes 20-somethings often make – and how to avoid them.

1. Living for today, not tomorrow

Mary Knox Merrill/The Christian Science Monitor/File
Jessica Angel (right) carries recent purchases in the Downtown Crossing shopping center in Boston Feb. 1, 2009. A college graduate who recently moved to Boston, Ms. Angel says, 'I'm trying as hard as possible not to add to my credit card debt I have from college.... I'm a lot more careful and responsible [with my money] than I used to be.' College grads have to decide to live within their means if they want to lay a solid financial foundation.

College life tells you to “live in the moment,” but in money, that attitude lands you in debt, bad credit, and limited financial opportunities. As a student, I spent money like I was actually making money, treating myself to dinners and shopping on credit because I didn’t need to repay right away. These financial mistakes caught up with me when I was overwhelmed with debt and stressed out about damage to my credit score, which could jeopardize my chances to get loans, credit cards, even my first job.

College grads must evaluate their budget and what it means to live “within their means.” Start by having a plan of what you need to purchase before you shop, and bring only enough cash that you’re willing to spend. Then use my “Last Aisle Stop” routine before you hit the cash register: Go through your shopping cart and take out the impulse buys that aren’t on your list and anything else you can’t afford. This three-minute strategy saves you from spreading your budget too thin and spending more than you have.

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