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10 money habits new grads should avoid

The terrain is already tough enough for new graduates. Don't make it worse by making these money missteps.

By MSN Money Partner May 30, 2013 11:58AM

This post comes from Angela Colley at partner site Money Talks News. 

moneytalksnews logoIf you're just graduating, I feel for you.

The economy is still bogged down and the job market is soft -- not a great time to start out in the world.

College graduate © Alys Tomlinson/Creatas Images/JupiterimagesBut don't make it worse by getting your financial life off on the wrong foot and developing bad money habits. In no particular order, here is a list of money moves to avoid as you enter the real world.

1. Borrowing to buy things that lose value

Cars, furniture, appliances, tech gadgets -- the value of these things is headed in one direction, and that's down. Paying interest means getting hit twice, first by the value loss, then by finance charges.

There are purchases where borrowing is justified: A home, a business, or an education can be among them because they at least have a chance of ultimately increasing your net worth. For pretty much everything else, the fewer borrowed bucks, the better.

2. Taking too little risk 

While gambling is a fool's game, keeping your powder too dry isn't smart either.

If you invest $500 a month and earn today's insured savings rate of 0.5% for 30 years, you'll amass $194,157. If you take a measured amount of risk, invest in ownership assets like stocks or real estate and as a result earn 8%, you'll have $745,179.

Obviously, you shouldn't put all your money in risky assets. But it should also be obvious that you shouldn't put all your money in risk-free assets either.

3. Failing to save

According to a recent study by, 28% of people have zero saved for emergencies, and an additional 20% don't have enough saved to cover three months of expenses.

Start saving now. Calculate how much you'd need to live without income for six months, then make that sum your goal. Set up an automatic transfer into your savings account so you pay yourself first.

4. Not keeping your credit in shape

You've heard it all before: A low credit score means higher borrowing costs, higher insurance premiums and more difficulty renting an apartment. A bad credit history could even affect your ability to land some types of jobs.

If that hasn't hit home yet, maybe this will: Say we both take out a mortgage. Because my credit scores are low, I'm saddled with a higher interest rate and higher payments. My monthly payment is $1,200 a month. Because your credit is stellar, you're offered a lower rate, which means lower monthly payments: $1,000 a month.

Now, suppose you invest your extra $200 every month during that 30 years and manage to earn an average of 8% annually. After 30 years, we'll both have paid-for houses, but you'll have $300,000 I don't.

That's a nice chunk of change simply for showing up with a good credit score. Monitor your credit for free by visiting If you don't like what you see, take steps to improve it.

5. Settling for more

The asking price is not necessarily what you have to pay when it comes to many goods and, especially, services. If you aren't inquiring about discounts, researching coupons, and haggling for the best prices, you won't get them.

Those who ask often receive, from free hotel upgrades to lower interest rates -- even cheaper doctor visits.

Remember, there are only two ways to get richer -- earn more or spend less. The best way to spend less is to ask for a better deal.

6. Ignoring insurance

You have to carry it and it costs a ton, but very few people take the time to understand the insurance they're paying for, or how they might pay less.

Understand your options, review your insurance once a year, and make sure you're paying as little as possible with techniques like:

  • Shopping around to make sure you're getting the best rate.
  • Raising your deductibles to lower your premium.
  • Not over-insuring, or paying for protection you don't need.

7. Passing up retirement plans

Not participating in your employer's 401k or other retirement plan at work, especially if they offer matching money, is dumb. Not only are you failing to save for retirement, you're missing potential tax deductions and something rare in the financial world: free money.

Sock all the money you can into a tax-advantaged retirement plan. Take advantage of employer matching contributions and tax breaks.

8. Wasting windfalls

Here's a mistake I've certainly made before. Who hasn't? You get a big lump sum of money and you spend it all.

Many people get this opportunity every year with tax refunds, which averaged about $2,900 this year. If you get a refund, don't waste it. Leverage it by paying down debt, increasing your productivity or adding to your savings.

9. Not budgeting

Not having financial goals and tracking your expenses is like driving around blindfolded, expecting to somehow arrive where you want to go.

Your goal is your destination -- where you want to be. The shortest path to get there is allocating your resources with a spending plan and tracking your progress.

If you don't have a compelling goal, create one. And if you don't have a spending plan, make one of those, too. Setting budgets and tracking expenses used to be a time-consuming pain because you had to do it by hand. Now it's as easy as going to a free site like PowerWallet and letting it do it for you.

10. Thinking money equals happiness

Happiness comes from liking yourself, something completely unrelated to money.

When you're on your deathbed, will you be thinking about money? Rather than obsessing about money, think about what really makes you happy. Then make only enough money to take part in those activities. Making more is a waste of the only nonrenewable resource you have: your time on the planet.

More from Money Talks News:
May 31, 2013 7:45AM

Save, Save, Save.  It doesn't have to be a lot at first, but save what you can.


By the way you don't need everything your friends have, they probably can't afford most of it either.

May 30, 2013 8:18PM

Like number ten the most. Money doesn't equal happiness at all. I've gotten older and I realize money is merely a tool.

The article did offer some good suggestions in 1-9. 

May 30, 2013 11:42PM
I went through college, paid it off myself, and paid my loans myself.  My advice to any pre- or post- college grads is not to believe in this sham of a system.  The stock market is still run by criminals so your money is not safe there or in 401Ks, and the same goes for banks.

You are better off using all of your ingenuity to become an independent person and the farther away you can get from these shills who claim to try helping you the better off you will be.

Your best bet is to:
- Be free of any debt
- Develop a craft or a trade or start your own business
- Own land, but don't buy what you cannot afford.  In other words, don't take out a 30 yr mortgage, because you can bet that the bank will take all the money you paid plus all of your property off another manufactured crisis down the line.

The US was founded by people who wanted their independence, but how many Americans can say they are independent off a system that abuses them today?

May 31, 2013 7:47AM
I can't understand why anyone would pass up a 401k that has an employer match.  I know it happens, I see it where I work.  Its free money.
Jun 10, 2013 7:20AM
If you borrow for an education, like the "author" advised doing, then don't whine about having to pay back your studen loans.
Jun 2, 2013 9:07PM
11. Avoid lifestyle inflation and save a good portion of those raises instead.
Jun 10, 2013 9:38AM
I am 65 and lost my retirement in the Bush years. Tell me were I can get 8% return and I will sign up.
May 31, 2013 9:29AM
Very good advice and a smartly written article.
Jun 10, 2013 1:22PM
What a joke, these people can't even find jobs and msn is telling them what to do with money they don't have.
May 30, 2013 8:20PM

Hey, boys & girls! Sure hope you didn't waste Mommy & Daddy's hard-earned money getting a degree that won't get you anything but a window monkey slot at Mickey D's! And if you *did* get a useful degree, make sure you get a decent-paying job, because I'll need your tax dollars when I take early retirement 6 years from now! You don't need a brand-new car...get a second- (or third-, or fourth-) hand Toyota! Get your togs at thrift stores! Buy store-brand vittles!


And if you think you'll be able to sock away 500 bucks a month (like *I* can), you're fooling yourselves.

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