12 Steps to Take Care of Your Money After Landing Your First Grown-up Job

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You did it. You’re free! With a college diploma in your hand, you run out to take the world by storm. It’s time to show everyone just how awesome you can do the adulting thing.

Then the bills start rushing in like your college buddies at a happy hour taco bar.

Getting that first real job might not happen just as you hope. For 2017 Florida State graduate Hannah Bartholomew, the job market wasn’t quite what she had expected.

“They really blow salaries out of proportion in college,” she says. “They really exaggerate what you’ll be making out of college. I had to think, ‘What is the very minimum I can make?’”

So even when you do find a job in your field, you might not be cashing checks as big as you thought.

But you’re in the real world now, and it’s time to give yourself a reality check.

How to Manage Your Finances After You Get a Real Job

Here are a few ideas to start your financial life off on the right foot.

1. Figure out Where You Fall on the Adulting Curve

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As Bartholomew took stock of her new situation, she had to keep the big picture in mind.

“I make enough money to pay my bills and to save an acceptable amount of what I make,” she says. “But you think about the American dream of buying a home, owning property or being debt-free… that’s something that comes to mind the most.”

But do you know how your financial plan is stacking up your friends’? Admit it. You want to know. What if your friends or relatives your age a getting out of debt and saving way faster than you?

Status Money is an app that allows you to anonymously compare your financial situation with your peers’ without asking those awkward, prying questions. Tap into this database, and you’ll be able to compare your income, debt, interest rates, credit score, spending… you name it.

By seeing how others are doing, you can see what you need to work on — or where you can sit back a little and just breathe easy.

2. Pay Attention to This Score (It’s Not a Game)

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Your credit score is important. You’ve heard that. But, now that you’re adulting, it’s time to take it seriously.

Did you know your credit score could be inaccurate? One out of five credit reports have an error, according to a study by the Federal Trade Commission.

To keep a closer eye on your credit, get your credit score and a “credit report card” for free from Credit Sesame. It breaks down exactly what’s on your credit report in layman’s terms, how it affects your score and how to address it.

Because it simplifies everything, you should be able to spot any errors. For instance, if you find an “unpaid” credit card that you know you paid, or a bill in collections you know never existed, you can dispute the incorrect information and raise your credit score.

Now that you have a great job, get a handle on your credit score and start making it shine.

3. Deal With the College Credit You Didn’t Want

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A lot of us are being crushed by credit card interest rates north of 20%. It’s OK. It’s the same scoop for a lot of recent grads. If you’re in that boat, consolidation and refinancing might be worth a look.

A good resource is consumer financial technology platform Fiona, which can help match you with the right personal loan to meet your needs.

Fiona searches the top online lenders to match you with a personalized loan offer in less than 60 seconds. Its platform can help you borrow up to $100,000 (no collateral needed) with fixed rates starting at 4.99% and terms from 24 to 84 months.

You want to keep you college memories forever, not the credit card bills you racked up. A better interest rate will make them disappear like your freshman-year roommate.

4. Break up With Your High School Bank

From left, Dalton Iohrke and Alece Moreno help out bank customers at Mount McKinley Bank in Fairbanks, Alaska.
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“The bank that I use is a local credit union that I’ve used my whole life,” says Bartholomew. “Quite honestly, it’s a hassle to switch banks.”

Quick… why do you bank where you bank? Like Hannah, it’s probably because that’s where your family has always done their banking business. But other options offer perks you might not have considered.

Take, for example, the option to get your shiny new paycheck a couple of days early. If that idea sounds good to you, you should check out Chime.

Unlike most banks, this online bank won’t wait until your pay date to get your money. As soon as it receives notification of a direct deposit from your employer, it immediately posts those funds to your account — up to two days before payday.

Who doesn’t want to get paid early?

Opening an account with Chime is free and only takes about five minutes.

5. You’re Ready to Invest (No, Really)

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Investing? You’re used to just trying to pay the rent!

It’s OK, you can start small with Acorns. The app lets you stack up change over time with its “round-up” feature. That means if you spend $10.23 at the grocery store, 77 cents gets dropped into your Acorns account.

Then, the app does the whole investing thing for you.

The idea is you won’t miss the digital pocket change, and the automatic savings stack up faster than you’d think. For example, we reviewed how Penny Hoarder Dana Sitar was able to save at a rate of $420 a year!

At that rate, you could set aside $1,000 in about two and a half years — without trying.

The app is $1 a month for balances under $1 million, and you’ll get a $5 bonus when you sign up.

6. Pay Your Bills

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Adulting means paying bills. The good news is with your new job, you can afford to pay them. You just need to remember to do it.

How about getting rewards for paying your bills on time?

An app called MoneyLion offers rewards to help you develop healthy financial habits and will literally pay you for logging onto the app.

You can earn points in the rewards program by paying bills on time, connecting your bank account or downloading the mobile app.

You can redeem those points for gift cards to retailers like Amazon, Apple and Walmart.

7. Don’t Pay Full Price… Ever

vegetables at Lucky's Market
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These days, there is no reason to pay full price for anything… ever. OK, maybe you pay upfront, but you should at least get some money back, right?

One of our favorite ways to save is with Ebates, a cash-back site that rewards you nearly every time you buy something. For example, Ebates gives you 10% cash-back on online purchases at Walmart.

Plus, you’ll get a free $10 gift card to Walmart for giving the site a try.

To earn your gift card:

  1. Sign up for Ebates with your email or Facebook account.
  2. Use the Ebates portal the next time you need to buy something. It’s connected to thousands of stores, including Walmart, Amazon and Target. You’ll need to make your first purchase through the site within 90 days and spend at least $25.
  3. Your account will be credited with rewards points you can cash in for your $10 Walmart gift card.

Seriously, it’s too easy not to use. You’re buying that stuff online anyway so why not get some money back?

8. Check Your Finances — 10 Years Into the Future

Young woman using her cellphone and credit card.
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Take a peek at your financial future with PocketSmith, an app that allows you to link all of your accounts and find out where you’re doing things right — and what you could do better.

You can check out your net worth and even glimpse your projected net worth up to 10 years in advance based on your spending habits.

If that projection isn’t what you hoped for, PocketSmith can help you create and stick to a budget. It can help you run your personal finances like a successful business.

With its calendar function, PocketSmith helps you see your cash flowing in and out each month, and its auto-budget feature lets you make a budget and forecast in one click. That’ll help you know the exact impact of your spending on your short- and long-term finances.

You can create a PocketSmith account online with your name and email address.

Upgrade to PocketSmith Premium, and for $9.95 per month you can link up to 10 accounts (you have to enter transactions manually with the free version). Penny Hoarders get two weeks free, plus access to an exclusive two-week bootcamp to help you improve your financial fitness.

9. Get a Few Bucks for That Futon

Woman on green mattress in bright home office interior with posters and plants
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One of the first things you want to do when you get a good job is to upgrade your home, even if it’s still a one-bedroom rental. No more futons and framed Bob Marley posters. You’re ready for a sectional sofa and some real art.

But don’t just shove that stuff into your car and take it to the donation stop. It still has value to somebody. Sell it!

You can sell virtually anything on Letgo. This intuitive app lets you snap a photo and list your item in less than 30 seconds. It removes a lot of the hassle of selling things online, and it’s 100% free to use.

10. Start Thinking About Retirement (Yes, Already)

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If you’re just starting out with your 401(k) plan at your new job, do everything you can to put it into high gear. You can really make a difference in these early years.

It takes more than just taking that 3% out of your paycheck, though.

Chances are, your 401(k) could be doing a lot better. Take control with help from Blooom, an SEC-registered investment advisory firm that can optimize and monitor your 401(k) for you and keep it speeding toward retirement.

It just takes a few minutes to get a free 401(k) analysis that will show you whether your investments are allocated properly and whether you’re losing money paying hidden investment fees.

It’ll even tell you just how much more money your account could earn by the time you want to retire. At your age, you might be able to make a significant difference.

After that, if you sign up, it’s just $10 per month to have Blooom monitor and maximize your 401(k). Bonus: Penny Hoarders get the first month free with the code PNNYHRD.

11. Start Budgeting — Without Giving up on Fun

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The dreaded B-word. Budget. It doesn’t have to be as scary as you think. Having a budget doesn’t mean you have to cut out any and all fun things in your life. It just means you are focusing your finances enough to meet your goals.

“When I graduated, honestly, my primary goal was to find a way to support myself and not have to move back in with my parents,” says Bartholomew.

Talk about life goals. We’ve all been there.

If you’re a bit nervous about setting a budget, consider the 50/20/30 budget. It’s easy, and it gives you plenty of wiggle room because, face it, you still want to hit that happy hour taco bar once in a while, right?

Here’s how it works. Every month you set aside:

  • 50% of your income for essentials, like rent or mortgage, groceries, utilities, car insurance and other important bills.
  • 20% for your financial goals, like retirement savings, paying down your college debt or even saving for a home.
  • 30% for your personal spending. These are your funds for dining out, drinks with friends, Netflix, travel, shopping, etc. That’s a pretty big chunk of money you get to play with each month.

The trick to this budget, like any, is to stick to it. You’ll make progress on your financial goals while still having a life.

12. Stop Calling Mom and Dad for Emergency Money

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There might have been a time when you could just pick up the phone and call Mom or Dad when your car went on the fritz or you had to pay for a quick trip to urgent care.

Welcome to the real world. You have a career now, so it’s up to you to prepare for those little life speed bumps with an emergency fund.

An emergency fund should be able to help you out with small emergencies, like a car repair, as well as tougher times, like finding yourself out of work for a bit. A savings account with three to six months of income is typically recommended.

Don’t worry. You don’t need to have it all set right away, but you should set up a plan to start building that fund. Consider it a buffer between you and living in your parents’ basement. Yeah, your old room is now Mom’s she-den. You didn’t know that? Sorry.

Now Relax. You’ve Done the Hard Part.

You’re at an exciting point in your life. Landing that first “real” job is fun, but it can also be a little intimidating. Life is going to expect a little more of you now.

By taking a good look at your finances now, you can set yourself up for a great financial future. The toughest part is making the decision to do it.

So now what? Did someone say “taco bar”?

Tyler Omoth is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder who loves soaking up the sun and finding creative ways to help others. He wishes he could send this article back to his 22-year-old self and make him read it. Catch him on Twitter at @Tyomoth.