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Personal Finance Guide


Simply put, a budget is an itemized summary of likely income and expenses for a given period. It helps you determine whether you can go out to dinner with friends or head home for a bowl of soup. A budget is often created using a spreadsheet and it provides an organized breakdown of how much money you have coming in and how much money you are letting go. (Personal Finance @ Duke, Duke University)

Budget Scenario 1: Figure out your expenses first

  • Make a list of your necessary monthly expenses: rent, groceries, bills (water, electricity, cable, internet, phone). Think about other expenses like any student loans, transportation (public transit or gas money) and anything else you absolutely need to have each month.
  • You may need to research these amounts: What is the average rent of a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco? What is a rough estimate of utility prices (you may need to ask around).
  • Once you have a total, break this down into salaries and/or hourly pay. Don't forget that a significant amount of your paycheck will go towards taxes!
  • Now you can confidently apply to jobs that will cover your living expenses and a better idea of your basic salary requirements.

Budget Scenario 2: Figure out your income first

  • Research to get a good idea of the salary range of the jobs you are applying for. Always work from the lower end of the salary range than you are expecting. For example, if you are expecting to get paid between $40,000 and $48,000 a year, plan your budget for $40,000.
  • Next, work from the known expenses: phone bill, student loans, any subscriptions or continuing expenses. Then add in anything that needs to be calculated (water and energy bills, groceries, rent).
  • Finally, calculate and see how much you have left. This is your "stretch money" and your budget can be reworked from here.
  • If you calculate your budget and end up with a deficit, consider what can be changed. Can you cut down on food expenses, live in a different part of town, take the bus instead of paying for gas?

Once you've secured a job and developed a budget, figure savings into your budget and set goals. For example, "I'd like to visit my best friend in Chicago but that will cost several hundred dollars. If I save $50 each month, how long will it take me to save for the trip?" has budget solutions that can show you your money at a glance, break down expense categories and also alert you to bill due dates. Great resource!

Where did it go?! A little about payday & taxes…

  • Most of us have heard of income tax, but the percentage of your pay that you may never see may be a huge shock the first time you get taxed like a real person. When you open your first paycheck and see how much you've been taxed, you may be convinced your new company made a mistake. They haven't.
  • Be sure you're basing your budget on your estimated net income, not gross. Check out this nifty net-pay calculator.
  • Another obvious headache to taxes? Filing them. Many recent graduates have never had to file taxes or, if they did, could rely on free internet filing software for basic filing. It can be a little trickier when you enter the workforce.
  • Taxes are a necessary evil. The bottom line is that you have to get used to them and anticipate how they will affect you. Connect with someone who can help guide you through your first tax season as a working professional. Ask your friends if they have parents, siblings or other friends who can give a workshop to you and a small group. Reach out to your local library or other public space to see if they offer free tax prep sessions. Reach out the fellow alums to get advice and direction.


  • Simply put, a 401(k) is a plan that employers sponsor in order to help their workers plan for retirement. Each pay period, an employee can automatically allocate a small percentage of their paycheck to be deposited into their 401(k).
  • If a 401(k) isn't a part of your package, do some research about IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts). There are many benefits to this as well!
  • Saving for retirement is a young person's game. It's never too early to start!
  • Great article for additional information about 401(k) and other resources: Steps for Young Adults to Open and Maintain a 401k

How do I pay off these student loans?

Avoid New Debt

  • New college grads might enjoy a period of financial freedom with little debt, but credit offers can be tempting. A new car, credit cards, furniture, or anything else that you can't afford in cash seems within reach if someone is willing to extend credit to you.
  • Kerry Hannon writes for Forbes, "Debt is a dream killer." If you owe too much, you might have to pass on a lower-paying job that you would love. If you're already missing payments, debt could become a roadblock to any job where the employer checks credit.
  • Every new debt equals a new monthly payment. The amount that you had to work with at the beginning dwindles with every new expense that you take on. That seems obvious, but it's easy to fall prey to the promise of things that you want in exchange for small payments.

Keep researching, learning and asking questions!

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