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Financial Planning Checklist for Recent College Grads

Whether you have a child or loved one who’s recently graduated or who’s gearing up to make the transition from college life to the “real world,” this major turning point will require numerous financial decisions. From finding a place to live and paying monthly bills to investing and saving for the future, college graduates may be faced with managing their own money for the first time.

However, many adults lack financial literacy – that is, they don’t understand how to effectively budget, save, invest, or handle other critical aspects of “adulting.” This can lead to poor financial decisions that may end up costing the average person over $1,800 per year.1

So, how can you help your child or loved one avoid making some of these mistakes and improve their financial literacy? Here is a checklist of financial planning tasks that may help graduates step into life after college on confident financial footing.

Create a Monthly Budget

Many people don’t use a budget, and some may not even know how much they spent last month. Even if a young adult is living comfortably and paying bills on time, mapping out their monthly income and expenses can go a long way toward
reducing their spending, which may allow them to save more for the future and prepare for emergencies.

A good starting point for young adults may be using the 50/30/20 Rule. According to this budgetary plan:

● 50% of their income should go toward necessities, including housing, food, utilities, car payments, insurance, and debt payments.
● 30% of their income can be devoted to discretionary spending, such as dining out or entertainment.
● 20% of their income should go into savings or investment accounts to help advance their long-term goals.

Save For the Unexpected

Speaking of saving, it’s always good practice to encourage your children to start a rainy day or emergency fund. Ideally, they’ll want to build up a safety net of around three to six months worth of living costs in case they lose a job, suffer an injury, or have a significant expense pop up. However, starting small by setting aside even just $50-$100 per month can add up quickly. After all, no one knows when they may need an extra $1,000 for unexpected expenses.

Build Up Their Credit Score

A good credit score is essential for most financial goals, whether it’s opening a new credit card or buying a house. But recent college grads may not have had much time to build their credit history. To help them improve their scores and develop a history, here are three things to get them started:

  1. Get a credit card or a secure card through their current bank, or have them added to yours.
  2. Keep spending to a maximum of 30% of their credit limit.
  3. Pay bills and debts on time each month.

Prioritize Paying Off Debts

After college, most young adults have already accumulated student debt to the tune of around $37,574, in addition to potentially having credit card debt.2 Even a single late payment can harm a credit score, so it’s essential they make at least the minimum payment on loans and credit card balances each month. Setting up automated payments can help them accomplish this. These debt balances can accrue interest, so encourage them to prioritize paying the full amount when they can or consider refinancing should rates move lower.

Save For Retirement

One crucial financial step many young adults overlook is saving for retirement. It’s never too soon to start preparing, and the earlier they do, the earlier they may be able to achieve a comfortable lifestyle after work. If a recent graduate’s employer has a 401(k) plan, encourage them to take full advantage of it – especially if their employer matches their contributions. Additionally, they can open an individual retirement account (IRA) to start saving on their own.

Grow Wealth With Smart Investments

College graduates should consider starting to invest and grow their wealth early. While building their portfolio may not offer an immediate payoff, growing wealth takes time, and the more runway they have, the more likely it is they’ll be able to reach their financial goals.

Next Steps

Managing money for the first time can be overwhelming. Go a step further in helping your loved ones by introducing them to your financial advisor so they can access the guidance they need as they embark upon a healthy financial life journey.


Robert (Rory) J. O’Hara III, CFP®, CRPC®

Founder | Senior Managing Partner

This material is intended for informational/educational purposes only and should not be construed as tax, legal or investment advice, a solicitation, or a recommendation to buy or sell any security or investment product. Investments are subject to risk, including the loss of principal. Some investments are not suitable for all investors, and there is no guarantee that any investing goal will be met. We make no representation as to the completeness or accuracy of information provided at these websites. Information on such sites, including third-party links contained within, should not be construed as an endorsement or adoption of any kind. Please consult with your financial professional and/or a legal or tax professional regarding your specific situation and before making any investing decisions.


  1. O’Brien, S. (Jan. 19, 2023) Lack of financial literacy cost 15% of adults at least $10,000 in 2022. Here’s how the rest fared. CNBC, 
  2. Hanson, M. (Jan. 22, 2023) Average Student Loan Debt. Education Data Initiative,,them%20have%20federal%20loan%20debt