Hats (or shall we say "caps") off to you recent college grads! After years of hitting the books and acing (or at least passing) your exams, you're now ready for "the real world." Part of being a post-scholar is smart money management, so investing and using your money strategically is important not only for your current place in life, but for your future. These tips will give you the know-how to make wise money-related decisions that you may not have learned in school, but may be even more valuable (pun intended) than what you're professors had to offer.



Start a 401(k)

While retirement may seem a long way off, planning for your golden years is best started as soon as possible. One way to do so is by opening a 401(k) retirement plan with the company you work for once you land your first post-college job.

As per U.S. News & World Report, "Even if you can only afford $25, $50 or $75 a month, there are several benefits to starting right away. The benefits of compounding could turn your small monthly investment into a decent nest egg as time passes. Even if you put $50 a month into your plan during your first year of employment, that $600 in contributions alone could grow into $13,952.08 over 40 years. Plan to increase your contributions as you get older, but for now, contribute as much as you can as soon as you can."

Plus, many employers will match your contribution up to a certain percentage. It's like getting free money! Forbes notes, "If possible, invest enough in your 401(k) to qualify for the full match (the amount your employer puts in as a result of how much you contribute). Most employers require workers to save between 4 and 6% of pay to get the maximum match. Whatever the match, try to take your company up on it." Not to mention, contributions are tax-deductible and the money grows tax-deferred until you take money from your savings.



Deal with Student Loans

College is expensive, and many students take out loans with hefty interest rates in order to afford to pay for school. U.S. News & World Report recommends, "If you have student loans (and most students do) pay them down at a rate faster than you're obligated. Putting extra money toward your student loans while you can, before you take on other large financial obligations, will be invaluable down the road."

Forbes adds, "Adding an extra $25 to your monthly repayments can shorten the life of your student loan and save you interest. Making the payments through automatic debits from your bank account can reduce the interest rate, too, according to student-loan servicer Sallie Mae."

There's also the option of a government (federal) consolidation loan. As per U.S. News & World Report, "With a consolidation loan, you are able to bundle all of your federal student loans into one monthly payment. Often, your rate will be lower than the average weighted rate of your existing loans. When you consolidate, your monthly payments may also decrease. By owing less interest and having a lower monthly payment, you are able to put more money away into savings."

Plus, according to StudentLoans.gov, you can do this at no cost to you. And, as per Nerdwallet, "Your payments will be tied to your earnings and your loan balance will be forgiven after 20 or 25 years."




Clear Your Credit Balance

Using a credit card may be your only option at times, but getting rid of debt, or clearing it completely, if possible, is best started now before the debt keeps piling up. U.S. News & World Report suggests, "If you acquired a student credit card while in college, it's time to graduate to a low-rate card."

Also, try to pay more than the minimum required each month, even if it's just by a few dollars. Over time, the payments will add up and debt will diminish. Forbes recommends, "Adding an extra $25 to your monthly repayments can save you interest. Making the payments through automatic debits from your bank account can reduce the interest rate, too." (If your card is through your personal bank).

Most of all, try not to accumulate credit cards and lower your spending if you can right after college. Make a budget and stick to it. As per Young Money, "The best way to stay in the driving seat of your finances is to create a personal spending budget. Be sure to factor in such things as taxes, increases in prices (i.e. gasoline), and other possible changes due to economic factors (i.e. inflation). In other words, practice conservatism-plan on the worst, and be prepared for the best."



Invest Your Money

While you may think that the period right after college should be the time to focus on making money and putting it straight into your bank account, investing some of it can be a smart plan. Forbes notes, "No, it's not too soon. In fact, one of the great advantages you have over people your parents' and grandparents' age is that you have many, many years ahead of you, which means more time for your money to grow. And, historically, buying stocks or mutual funds is the best way to do this."

U.S. News & World Report agrees, "Devise a strategy incorporating several different types of investments that allows you to diversify in order to reduce risk. Now is the time to be more aggressive. You can gradually reduce the risk level of your investments as you approach retirement."

You can seek out advice online or with an advisor, which is a wise idea before making any major moves.

OK grad… you made it through those four grueling years, now it's time for the rest of your life!


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Home garden and porch

As anyone who has ever sold a house will tell you, you must prioritize curb appeal. Before a potential buyer even considers looking inside your house, they notice the outside first. Does it attract the right kind of attention? Does it take away from the feel you're going for? If you plan to sell sometime soon, you must think about these things. Here are some landscaping options to increase your home's curb appeal, so you can get the best price on your home.

Extensive Plants and Greenery

A barren front yard won't get you the price you want on your home. So, invest in at least a little bit of greenery to keep the surrounding area from looking too dead. Shrubs and bushes tie the house to the lawn that precedes it, and flower beds bring a pop of color to an otherwise drab structure. You can also strategically plant some trees to improve the overall feel of your home's exterior.

Lawn Care

As we mentioned, your lawn is one of the most prominent features of your home's exterior. A patchy, dried-up lawn will quickly drive your home's price way down. Some of the best landscaping options for your home's curb appeal involve improving your lawn for the next inhabitant. Overall fertilization, ground aeration, underbrush removal, proper mowing—all of these lawn care tasks contribute to a greener and more lively area that invites people to see your house, rather than stay away from it.

Paved Pathways

There's nothing like a broken and disheveled pathway to make someone think twice about buying a property. Just as you want the entryway in your house to be welcoming, so too should the pathway leading up to the house be inviting. The pathway from the street to your front door provides plenty of real estate to get creative with. You don't have to settle for a boring concrete pathway. Consider something more eye catching, like a cobblestone path or intermittent brick patterns, as a way to better welcome potential buyers.

Usable Outdoor Furniture

Landscaping doesn't just involve the ground you walk on; also included are the items you use as extras to the overall look. Outdoor furniture is one such extra that you don't necessarily need but can look quite attractive if done correctly. Staging is important with outdoor furniture. Old, broken-down pieces will only look like more work to the potential buyer. A few comfortable chairs, a bench, or a table with an umbrella really go a long way to improving your outdoor aesthetics.

A good tip for deciding on curb appeal items is to decide what you personally would want to see as a part of a welcoming home's exterior. You don't need to go overboard, but a little bit of forethought could net you quite a lot of extra cash in the sale.

Unfortunately, giving back can sometimes go haywire. If you're ready to make a donation, first consider common mistakes made when giving back.

Many people strive to support their community by donating their time or their money. When you find a meaningful cause, you might be quick to cut a donation check. Though it's admirable to be quick to act charitably, you should be wary of several common mistakes made when giving to charity. Being mindful of these mistakes and learning tips for making informed charitable choices can help you make the most out of your generous check.

Acting Quickly Out of Emotion

Mission statements are meant to be compelling. If you're an emotionally driven individual, it's natural to pull out your wallet at the sight of a sad puppy on TV or when informed about food insecurity over the phone. Unfortunately, not all charities are as effective or official as they may seem.

Take your passion for helping others one step further by making sure your chosen charity is legit. Speaking with a representative, reviewing their website and social media accounts, and looking at testaments online can give you a better idea of whether the organization is worth your donation.

Forgetting to Keep Record of the Donation

Don't forget that you can reap some financial perks from giving back! With the proper documentation of your donation, you can acquire a better tax deductible.

If you donate more than $12,400 as a single filer or $24,800 as one of two joint filers, you're eligible to deduct that amount from your taxes. So, when a charity asks if you'd like a receipt of donation, always answer yes.

Donating Unusable Materials

Most charities can utilize a monetary donation—it's the physical donations that usually cause some issues. Providing a local nonprofit with irrelevant materials or gifting them with unusable products are surprisingly common mistakes made when giving to charity.

Always check your intended charity's website for a list of things they do and do not accept. The majority of places will provide a guideline to donating or offer contact information to clarify any questions.

Strictly Giving at Year's End

As more and more people get into the holiday spirit at the end of the year, nonprofit organizations see an influx of donations. While it's great to spread holiday cheer via a monetary donation, it's important to keep that spirit going year-round.

With regular donations, charities can more effectively allocate their annual budget. Setting up an automatic monthly donation with the charity of your choosing can maximize your impact. You can account for a monthly donation by foregoing a costly coffee every once in a while.

Knowing how much you should spend on home maintenance each year is hard to figure out and may be preventing you from buying your first home. The types of costs you'll incur depend on the house you buy and its location. The one certainty is that you should start saving now. Read on to figure out how much to start setting aside based on the home you own.

The Age of Your House

Consider several factors when budgeting for home repairs. If you've purchased a new home, your house likely won't require as much maintenance for a few years. Homes built 20 or more years ago are likely to require more maintenance, including replacing and keeping your windows clean. Further, depending on your home's location, weather can cause additional strain over time, so you may need to budget for more repairs.

The One-Percent Rule

An easy way to budget for home repairs is to follow the one-percent rule. Set aside one percent of your home's purchase price each year to cover maintenance costs. For instance, if you paid $200,000 for your home, you would set aside $2,000 each year. This plan is not foolproof. If you bought your home for a good deal during a buyer's market, your home could require more repairs than you've budgeted for.

The Square-Foot Rule

Easy to calculate, you can also budget for home maintenance by saving one dollar for every square foot of your home. This pricing method is more consistent than pricing it by how much you paid because the rate relies on the objective size of your home. Unfortunately, it does not consider inflation for the area where you live, so make sure you also budget for increased taxes and labor costs if you live in or near a city.

The Mix and Match Method

Since there is no infallible rule for how much you should spend on home maintenance, you can combine both methods to get an idea for a budget. Average your results from the square-foot rule and the one-percent rule to arrive at a budget that works for you. You should also increase your savings by 10 percent for each risk factor that affects your home, such as weather and age.

Holding on to savings is easier in theory than practice. Once you know how much you should spend on home maintenance, you'll know what to aim for and be more prepared for an emergency. If you are having trouble securing funds for home repairs, consider taking out a home equity loan, borrowing money from friends or family, or applying for funds through a home repair program through your local government for low-income individuals.