Newly Graduated? 5 Money Moves to Make When You Land Your First Job

Just got your first real job? Consider adopting financial habits such as building an emergency fund and starting on your retirement nest egg.

https://tickertapecdn.tdameritrade.com/assets/images/pages/md/Illustration of 5 savings habits to adopt in your first job
3 min read
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Key Takeaways

  • Create a budget and track your inflows and outflows
  • Understand the importance of an emergency fund

  • Assess your goals for retirement, larger purchases, and debt repayment 

It’s exciting to start your first “real” job, accessing a paycheck that allows you to live on your own terms. Although seeing that money in your bank account can be thrilling, it’s also a big responsibility. The habits you develop with your money now can lay a foundation for future wealth.

So, even though you want to get out and live a little after receiving your first paycheck, you also want to set yourself up for future financial success by considering the following money moves.

1. Create a Budget

Illustration of a stack of money and icons indicating healthcare, bills, groceries, savings, auto expenses, and home expenses

A good first move is to create a budget so you can direct your resources in a way that makes sense for you. Start by reviewing your past spending and income so you get an idea of how money moves in your personal financial situation.

Prioritize your expenses, starting with needs like housing, food, and transportation. Look at other financial goals you have, including paying down debt and saving for a down payment on a home. All these items should be considered, along with when and how much you expect to get paid.

Now that you have your first paycheck, you can see what your take-home pay is and plan your budget around it. By having a plan for conscientious spending, you can get more from your money in the long run.

2. Save for Retirement

Illustration of a check with arrows pointing toward hands putting some of the money into a retirement account

Your first job is the perfect time to start saving for retirement—even if you have outstanding debt. If your employer offers a matching contribution to your tax-advantaged account—usually a 401(k)—take full advantage. That’s free money for you. Even if your company doesn’t offer a match, it’s still a good idea to save for retirement as early as possible. If you start setting money aside now, it has time to potentially grow using compounding returns. The longer your money is in a retirement account, the more likely you are to reach your wealth goals later.

Consider having your retirement contribution taken directly from each paycheck. Make it automatic and you won’t have to think about it going forward. Then when you tweak your budget, you can base that budget on your pay after your retirement contribution is already taken.

3. Build an Emergency Fund

Illustration of a car collision and dollar signs around it

With an emergency fund you’re more likely to avoid debt when something unexpected, like a car repair, comes up. Even if you only have a few bucks a week to set aside for emergencies, that can potentially help you in the long run. When you have an emergency fund, you can also gain peace of mind knowing you can cover unexpected costs that crop up.

Consider using a high-yield savings account or some other account for your emergency fund. Think about your needs and how you might need to access the money, then set up an account that’s likely to fit your style. The key here is to start with as much as you can and get in the habit of setting aside money for a rainy day. As your finances improve, you can increase how much you set aside for emergencies.

4. Pay off Student Loans

Illustration of a large bank building

Are you among the more than 40 million Americans with outstanding student loan debt? If so, now is a good time to start paying off your student debt. First, check with your employer to find out if they have a student loan repayment program. Some companies will match your student loan payments, and others will simply put money toward student loan repayment for its employees. Find out if such a program exists in your company.

Next, figure out if you might need to get on an income-driven repayment plan if you can’t afford your payments. Student loan consolidation might also help you reduce your monthly payments. However, realize that being on income-driven repayment or using consolidation can cost you more in the long run because it lengthens the amount of time you have the debt.

Finally, don’t forget to look into student loan forgiveness. Depending on your job and your employer, you might be eligible for state and federal forgiveness programs. Find out what’s available to you and make a plan to meet the requirements so you can potentially get a break later.

If you aren’t eligible for forgiveness but can afford to put more toward your student loans, consider paying extra each month. You can also consider using a private refinance to reduce your interest rate and pay off your debt faster. Carefully think about your choices and what’s likely to work best for you.

5. Plan for Life and Financial Goals

Illustration of a pathway with a car moving through vacations, marriage, home ownership, and having children

Don’t forget to set aside money for other goals. Get used to thinking ahead and creating a plan to save for items that are important to you. Whether it’s a down payment on a home, having a baby, going on vacation, or buying a car, think about how you want to direct your financial resources in the future.

You can save for multiple goals at once. Prioritize them by time frame and amount and look for ways to set aside money for them each pay period. 

In the end, one of the best things you can do for your financial future is get used to prioritizing your goals and directing your resources toward the things that matter most. Now that you have a regular paycheck, put that money to work on your behalf and develop habits that will lead to financial stability in the long run.

How to Invest in Your 20s

Miranda Marquit is not a representative of TD Ameritrade, Inc. The material, views, and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and may not be reflective of those held by TD Ameritrade, Inc.

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Key Takeaways

  • Create a budget and track your inflows and outflows
  • Understand the importance of an emergency fund

  • Assess your goals for retirement, larger purchases, and debt repayment 

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