How to budget, save, and manage personal finances after college.

F.R.E.E. Money for Grads

Discover how to build financial resilience, empowered early.

By Emily Elmore | 23 June 2020

Feeling a little anxious about your financial prospects as you trade class for the workplace? You’re in good company. Graduates everywhere are expressing their concerns about nav.igating budgets and savings while balancing student loan obligations, affordable housing and transportation. Add social unrest and a pandemic to the mix and you get, well, a lot of uncertainty about the reality you just inherited.

No matter where you are in your financial journey, Nav.it’s FREE finance principles can prepare you for your future and keep you on track (even with a deviation or two). What is FREE?

Financial Resilience, Empowered Early

It’s easy to demonize money, but it’s simply a tool. The financial system was built on rules; if you know what the rules are, you can max out the tool’s effectiveness in order to fund your dreams and anticipate financial setbacks. No matter where you are in your financial journey, you can implement “best practices” in order to start building financial health.

Just like any other wellness routine, some of us have more work to do than others… and that’s ok! All of us will experience a life event that impacts our finances negatively, but if we empower ourselves through financial literacy, and implement a system early that allows us to understand and manage our personal finances, we can make incremental changes over time that lead to major improvements in our overall health.

The Balance: What You Want to Spend vs. What You Have to Spend

Many of our grads expressed that they were worried about budgeting after college, although they admitted to rarely seeking resources on how to budget or save better now. I remember this acutely. If you have student loans you probably owe a lot of money, you don’t have a lot to spend, you know those loans are coming due but it feels like a “future me problem.” I knew I needed to understand my budgeting picture before graduating in order to allocate funds to my loans after graduation, but there was a lot of pressure to go out, have fun, and live my best life.

Sound similar? Fiona from Boston College tells us that’s exactly her feeling toward personal finance.

“I study neuroscience and sociology,” she tells us. “I always knew things were expensive but didn’t really appreciate that til I started paying for things on my own. It’s hard to find balance between what I like to spend and how much I actually have.”

FREE is based on three major pillars: create a budget, build your emergency fund, pay down debt. The budget is where this all starts and Fiona recognizes that. Spending gets away from her, and since her resources are so limited anyway it feels futile to squirrel what she has away when she can instead choose to spend it on experience.

We don’t judge on your money philosophy, we simply want to ensure it’s sound for you long-term. Whether you like to spend your money on live theater or sporting events, the salon or your savings account… that’s up to you. In all cases, you can improve your financial outcomes if you budget for the things you want to do so you can prioritize the experiences you want to have.

Paying Down Debt: The Ultimate Return

While budgeting is a huge concern for limited resources while in college, it’s also of paramount importance upon graduation. You’re making more green, but you have more financial responsibilities. For one, your student loan debt comes due.

Debt accrues interest, and however much you borrowed you owe that plus more (sometimes much, MUCH more) the longer it takes to pay it off. What’s more, you pay interest ON interest, which means minimum payments can keep you in the red on student debt well into your thirties.

Sarah from the University of Miami is pre-med, and while she diligently considers how much money she has available to spend, she also recognizes that most of her money post-graduation is going to her loans. Medical school is expensive, and successfully paying it off will be a major milestone.

“Right now finances don’t play a major role in my day-to-day life. At most I might think about how much I spent in the last couple days on ordering out. But I do think about my debt. I want to start looking at it after med school started off at the bare minimum.”

Paying your debt off early can save you big dollars. Very few investments give you as high a return as the interest percentage you save when you DON’T have to pay it. So pay off that debt and keep more of your money in your pocket.

Need some strategies? Try the debt snowball or avalanche.

Saving: Creating a Safety Cushion

Armando, also from the University of Miami, is an entrepreneurship major and wants to grow his family’s distribution business. He says he’s hyper-aware of his funds and has always set a rigorous budget for himself. Still, he too recognizes how much more he spends in college on “social spending” as a member of a fraternity.

“I’m always aware of how, when, and why I spend my money but I don’t have a future plan for how I want to manage my finances… I don’t know where to start on how best to save. Although I’m young, I think about providing for my future children the same way my parents did for me. I know I need to start now.”

To provide that “warm fuzzy” money feeling about providing for yourself and the things that bring you joy, an emergency fund (3-6 months of income) can help you weather most financial shocks. It’ll cover a period of unemployment without disrupting your ability to pay for housing, transportation, food, other liabilities you’re on the hook for, like student debt. The earlier you get started the faster you’ll hit your goal and then you can start throwing the rest of those funds at your student debt so you can keep more of those dollars in your pocket to fund the things you really love, like travel or visiting with family.

There’s no one size fits all to success, but basic personal finance management techniques can empower you to do more of what you enjoy most. So get on it early, feel good about the small changes you’re making over time, and enjoy your newfound FREEdom, graduate.


We’re changing the narrative around money but change can’t happen with a one-sided conversation. That’s why we’re excited to bring different voices and experts to share their wisdom. Send us an email and let us know what you think. And remember the nav.it money app offers you free tools for checking in and managing your money moves.

You can download it at Google Play and the Apple Store.

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