Congratulations! You finally landed your first real job, and with that comes a real paycheck.
Before you start asking yourself questions like "What do I do with it?" and "How much should I spend on rent?" rest assured that we can help.
We spoke with a few recent graduates who landed jobs at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control (MFC) about their best tips for planning ahead and sticking to a budget to maximize your paychecks.
Know How Much You Have to Spend
The first real step on the path to financial freedom is to create a budget. This is an absolute no-brainer because you need to know how far your dollar goes toward basics like rent, food, and car payments—you don't want to keep tabs on your available funds through ATM receipts or overdrawn notifications. Plus, you want to be able to forecast how you can save money and apply it to future purchases like your first home or a new car.
One way to create a budget is to follow the 50/30/20 rule. First, figure out how much you make after taxes. Then take that number and budget 50% for needs (rent, utilities, groceries), 30% for wants (Netflix, eating out, vacation), and 20% for savings and debt repayment (student loans, 401K). Once you've got the hang of it, you'll need to find a way to keep your budget organized.
“I recommend learning about Excel and how to navigate spreadsheets," says Marco M., Electrical Engineer at Lockheed Martin MFC. "When I went to the University of Houston, I was also working at a law firm, and I was doing accounting. Spreadsheets came with the territory, and I applied that knowledge to try to help pay off my student loans."
If you're not a spreadsheet maven (or if the very thought sends a shiver down your spine), there are also a number of great apps that can help you create budgets while alerting you when to make payments on your bills.
But the most important thing to remember when it comes to budgeting is to stick to it.
Take Stock of Your Small Purchases
If you're buying lunch every afternoon, you're spending over $50 a week on your salad addiction. You can figure out the total cost over the course of a year by counting to insane.
Of course, this isn't just about overpriced salads; it's about prioritizing what you need to get through the week. There are little things here and there that start to add up, like eating out. Those small things here and there can add up to a lot of money over time, which can eat into your ability to not only afford bigger ticket items like a vacation or a new car, but also pay down your loans or save for your future (a house, a wedding, even—gulp—retirement).
"As a typical engineer, I like to have a plan for my future," says David W., Mechanical Design Engineer at Lockheed Martin MFC. "My financial future in particular is something I want to be able to say, I know what's going to happen three, four, five years out in the future. "
"Knowing when I'll be able to afford a house is a great peace of mind," he adds.
No one is saying that you can't have any fun, it's just that you need to know what your monetary limitations are. You don’t have to go out every weekend and there’s no shame in getting some friends together to play Monopoly or binge watch the latest shows on Netflix.
“I probably set around 5-10% aside for fun money, and the rest is for paying my bills on time," says Marco M.
Work within the 20% you've allocated for wants to understand how much fun money you really have. If you really want to save money for a vacation, you might have to sacrifice elsewhere, like cutting out that morning latte, or going out to dinner only once a month. While it might seem daunting at first, it will help you learn what you really prioritize and how to make those things happen.
Find a Company That Will Help Pay Your Student Loans
Americans owe over $1.5 trillion in student loans, and the average student who graduated in 2018 has $29,800 in loans. While there hasn't been some grand, sweeping plan of loan forgiveness taking the country by storm, there are companies offering student loan assistance for recent grads.
Lockheed Martin MFC recently introduced their own program called Invest In Me. “I get an extra bonus in my salary, and I'm supposed to use it for my student loans," says David W. “Once my student loans are paid off, as long as I'm still in the program, I can use that money for whatever I'd like."
That's money you can apply to a car payment or toward a down payment for a house.
“The Invest In Me program has helped my student loan payments and my day-to-day budgeting because it gives me a little extra every month and shows me that Lockheed Martin MFC really does care about me being able to transition into the workforce," says Anissa K., Aeronautical Engineer at Lockheed Martin MFC.
Don't be shy about asking if your company offers any similar assistance programs. And if they don't, it's a great opportunity to speak to HR about the possibility.
Talk About Money
People hate talking about money. After all, it doesn't exactly come naturally to chat about your credit card interest rates or the ins and outs of your 401(k) over drinks at happy hour.
But it doesn't have to be that way. Talking about how you spend money and your financial future is important, especially if you can gain valuable insight into how others are doing it successfully.
“I think that people feel bad talking about money because they think there's a comparison to other people," says Anissa K. “I think breaking down that stigma and having conversations about money helps you learn about interest rates and payments and making sure that you're getting paid for what you're doing."
Learning how to be careful with your money can be tricky to get the hang of, particularly if you're just out of college and getting your career started. If you can figure out what's truly important to you, you can start to plan for your future and make a decision about how to spend and save wisely—and hey, getting that student loan paid off is pretty awesome too.