How to Prepare Your Finances for Graduation from College

Two college students walking and talking.

This article discusses financial tips for college graduates, including how to create a budget, manage living expenses, and land your first job.

Congratulations, graduate! You've made it. However, now begins the real work of adulting as you move into the next phase of your life. If you lack experience in job hunting or covering your daily expenses, taking these next steps can be challenging. Here’s how to get started.

Create a Budget

Begin by tracking your income and expenses to figure out where your money is going and if it’s covering the necessary expenses. Are you spending more on incidental costs than you realized?

Living expenses after college

If your parents paid for most of your college, you may not have much experience covering living expenses. Here’s what you should be prepared for each month.


If you were living in the dorm, an off-campus apartment, or in your parents' home, you may not be used to budgeting for monthly rent. Usually, you also need to factor in utilities like electricity, gas, and water.

Food and groceries

You may already be paying for food, but keep in mind that there are no meal plans or dining halls in the outside world, and the full cost of daily eating may be higher than you expected. Budgeting for the grocery store and scratch cooking is cheaper than Uber Eats. Delivery fees and eating out add up.

Health insurance

Your parents may be able to keep you on their health insurance plan until you find a job that offers coverage. If you’re not eligible to stay on your current plan, and you don’t have a job that offers health insurance, you may need to purchase insurance independently. Start with your state’s health insurance marketplace.

Transportation expenses

Your expenses may vary depending on where you live and how you commute. Whether you own a car or plan to take the bus, be prepared for transportation expenses to change.

Everything you got for “free” at college

From internet access to gym memberships, the perks you enjoyed as a student are over. If any of these have become necessities for you, be sure to prepare for that expense.

Student loan payments

If you’ve been deferring payments while in school, understand when your grace period ends and what your monthly payment looks like so you can build it into your budget.

For federal student loans, payment typically starts six months after you graduate, leave college, or drop below full time status. Undergraduate subsidized loans don’t start accruing interest until after that grace period (the federal government pays it until that point), but interest is accruing on unsubsidized loans.

Be aware, Graduate PLUS and Parent PLUS loans don’t have the same grace period. Figure out who your loan servicers are so you can look up loan details, balances, and projected monthly payments. You may have more than one service provider. Start with the Department of Education’s exit counseling if you haven’t completed it already.

Private student loan repayment terms vary according to the lender and the loan agreement. Some private loans require payments immediately after graduation, while others may offer a grace period similar to federal loans. Again, check with your lender.

Set priorities

Once you know where your money is going, determine your spending goals and priorities. What feels most important? Paying down your student loans, buying a car, or saving for a down payment on a house are all options. Understanding what you want and need makes decision-making easier.

Build savings

It’s also important to make saving money a part of your routine. Start by creating an emergency fund and build from there. An emergency fund covers unexpected expenses like new tires on your car, a medical bill, or your phone being stolen. Take a look at different budgeting styles to determine which one works best for you.

Improve credit

Work on getting your credit in good shape. A good credit score helps you secure good interest rates on future loans, access credit cards, and obtain better auto insurance rates.

If you don’t already have a credit card, consider opening one to start building a credit history. Paying off the balance in full and on time every month is one of the best ways to begin. You don’t even have to put much on the card -- $10 a month will do the job.

How to Land Your First Job

Finding your first job could be as simple as clicking on a LinkedIn job application, or it could be a drawn-out process. Here are our tips.

1. Network

Talk to friends, family, alumni, and professors to see if they know of any job openings or can offer any advice. Attend career fairs, industry events, and networking events to meet new people and make connections in your field. Use your college’s career center and job-search tool to explore job listings.

2. Customize your resume and cover letters

Your college career center can help you with formatting and the best ways to highlight your skills, achievements, and experiences that are directly relevant to the position you want. Have someone proofread for errors.

3. Practice interviewing

If you’re not used to it, interviewing for a job can be extremely stressful. Prepare by researching common interview questions and practicing your responses. Dress professionally, arrive on time, and bring copies of your resume and references.

4. Follow up after every interview

A simple thank you email or note can help you stand out and show your interest in the position.

5. Cast a wide net

Sometimes the job you spent four or more years training for just isn’t available right now. Don't limit yourself to one specific job or industry. Be open to different opportunities and consider internships, contract work, or part-time positions as a way to gain experience and build your skills.

6. Be patient

Finding a job can take time and may involve multiple interviews and rejections. Stay positive and keep at it.

7. Keep adding new skills

Don’t stop evolving and developing. Attend training programs, take online courses, or pursue additional certifications or degrees.

Graduating from college can feel overwhelming, but you’ve got this! If you feel unprepared to manage the financial responsibilities or life after college, our budget experts can help. And if need help finding the student loan repayment plan that works best for your situation, we offer student loan counseling.

"I had just graduated college, got my first job, and it was just a lot of things happening all at once. And I just was not prepared for adulthood or handling my own finances and anything like that. I kind of thought that the credit card was my money, but it really wasn't."

Hear how MMI client Joanne overcame her tough early experiences with debt and credit:

Tagged in Advice for students, Navigating change

Jesse Campbell photo.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, with over ten years of experience creating valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

  • Better Business Bureau A+ rating Better Business Bureau
    MMI is proud to have achieved an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), a nonprofit organization focused on promoting and improving marketplace trust. The BBB investigates charges of fraud against both consumers and businesses, sets standards for truthfulness in advertising, and evaluates the trustworthiness of businesses and charities, providing a score from A+ (highest) to F (lowest).
  • Financial Counseling Association of America Financial Counseling Association of America
    MMI is a proud member of the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA), a national association representing financial counseling companies that provide consumer credit counseling, housing counseling, student loan counseling, bankruptcy counseling, debt management, and various financial education services.
  • Trustpilot Trustpilot
    MMI is rated as “Excellent” (4.9/5) by reviewers on Trustpilot, a global, online consumer review platform dedicated to openness and transparency. Since 2007, Trustpilot has received over 116 million customer reviews for nearly 500,000 different websites and businesses. See what others are saying about the work we do.
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development - Equal Housing Opportunity Department of Housing and Urban Development
    MMI is certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide consumer housing counseling. The mission of HUD is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD provides support services directly and through approved, local agencies like MMI.
  • Council on Accreditation Council On Accreditation
    MMI is proudly accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA), an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. COA’s thorough, peer-reviewed accreditation process is designed to ensure that organizations like MMI are providing the highest standard of service and support for clients and employees alike.
  • National Foundation for Credit Counseling National Foundation for Credit Counseling
    MMI is a longstanding member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), the nation’s largest nonprofit financial counseling organization. Founded in 1951, the NFCC’s mission is to promote financially responsible behavior and help member organizations like MMI deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.