Frugal Advice For New College Graduates

May always makes me nostalgic for the day nine years ago when Mr. Frugalwoods and I graduated, hand-in-hand, from college. Ahh, we were young, in love, jobless, broke (though without debt), and blissfully happy. We were reminiscing about our early post-college days this weekend and it inspired me to share all the stuff that I wish I’d known when we graduated. I won’t say it’s the stuff I wish someone had told me, because someone probably did and I probably just didn’t listen…

I’ve divided my advice here into two segments: before job and after job. Yes, this is an early retirement blog and yes, Mr. FW and I plan to quit our 9-5’s and retire early to a homestead in the woods. But, we wouldn’t be able to even imagine that future if we hadn’t both gotten jobs right after college, worked our butts off, and saved a ton of money. In other words, you’ll need to get a job before you can quit it.

By “job”in this context, I’m referring to what you’d consider a full-time, professional, likely salaried position in the field you’d like to be working in. For all intents and purposes, a “real” job.

The Frugalwoods college graduation

The Frugalwoods college graduation

Before Job

Get A Job–Any Job–Immediately After Graduation

I’m supremely grateful that this is advice Mr. FW and I did take. When we first graduated, summer seemed like this time of endless revelry during which we could leisurely job search while hanging out with our friends for our final post-college hurrah. Yes, we did hang out with our friends a lot that summer, which I absolutely don’t regret, but, we also both worked full-time.

Mr. FW had already netted a “real” job, so he was off equipped with a tie and travel coffee mug every morning. I, on the other hand, had yet to land a job in my field despite having sent out upwards of fifty resumes. So, I trotted over to the temp agency and found a position at a document scanning company. Lest you think that sounds too exciting, let me assure you–it was the very definition of a menial job. I sat in a windowless room (thankfully along with a bunch of co-workers so I wasn’t lonely) and prepared documents to be scanned.

Even Frugal Hound would be bored at that job

Even Frugal Hound would be bored at that job

What does this entail you might be wondering? It entails straightening the edges of paper, removing staples and paper clips, and neatly stacking the pages back in order. Then, I carried my straightened file over to the scanning machine. I didn’t even get to feed the documents into the scanner–that was a job reserved for a more senior employee. Best part? I did this for 40 hours a week, Monday through Friday, all summer long.

But there were plenty of upsides–for starters, the hours were 7am-3pm, which gave me several hours every afternoon to conduct phone interviews and submit resumes. Plus, I was allowed to listen to NPR and the BBC all day long on my headphones and let me tell you what, I’ve never been more informed about world news. I honestly got smarter while doing that asinine job.

I had to humble myself a bit to take this job. After all, I had a college degree (which makes me laugh now), but at the time I was a bit ashamed that this was all I could get hired to do. But, I’m glad I did it. The job paid well and I saved money all summer long. Plus, I learned that it’s totally possible for me to do a job that’s inanely boring. Sure, I have a few college degrees and sure, I think I’m smart, but your know what? If I ever needed to, I could do that job again. It’s empowering to realize you can find self-sufficiency in surprising places. And I certainly didn’t feel ashamed when I deposited that paycheck every week–I felt shrewd.

So while you’re searching for your dream job, don’t waste time, earn money.

Consider Moving Back In With Your Parents

Neither Mr. FW nor I ended up doing this, but, I think it has the potential to be a great option. If you’re on good terms with your parents, and they’re OK with you trekking back into the family home, you can take this opportunity to seriously save money. Especially if you have yet to snare a job in your field, living with your folks (or other family members) can be an excellent idea while you continue job searching and also working your temp agency/Starbucks/nanny job.

And if you happen to find a “real” job in the same town as your parents, see if they’d be amenable to hosting you. Even if you pay them room and board (which I happen to think you should), I bet they’ll charge you under market rate. Plus, you won’t need to buy furniture or pay utilities. The key here is that if you go this route, you should be saving pretty much every dollar you make. Living on the cheap is not a license to go out every night and blow your salary. Take advantage of the situation in a positive way and set yourself up for financial success early on.

Don’t Go To Grad School Just Because You Can’t Find A Job

Mr. Frugalwoods dodged a bullet (in our opinion) on this front. He’d applied and been accepted into law school and was seriously considering going mainly because he wasn’t sure what else to do. He didn’t have a great dream to become a lawyer, he was just good at the logic questions on the LSAT and, let’s be honest, he kind of enjoys debating (good thing his wife did debate in high school too…). Fortunately, he was also offered a job at about the same time and, not feeling any great affinity for the law, took the job.

All I can say is thank goodness. Had he gone to law school, we’d probably be in some serious debt right now and, by our calculations, his salary would probably be about the same. And, from our conversations with our friends who are lawyers, he’d likely also be miserable in his job. This is in no way to malign lawyers–merely to point out that this would not be the ideal profession for my non-conformist, bearded Mr. FW.

The only reason he seriously considered law school is that is seemed like an easy next step after college. After all, he was good at school and this was just more school. We have a number of friends who went the route of grad school immediately after undergrad and, except in a few rare instances, most of them now say they regret it. In addition to incurring fairly massive loans, they feel trapped into careers they’re not necessarily passionate about. And thanks to those loans, they’ve got to keep working in order to pay them off.

My Master's graduation

My Master’s graduation

I have no beef with grad school, but I highly recommend waiting a few years unless you’re absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt certain that you’ve found your lifelong calling. I went to grad school after working for five years, which gave me a pretty solid base of experience in selecting my degree program.

Additionally, and this is where it really counts: I first got a job at a university in order to take advantage of tuition remission. Here is a wonderful yet little-known fact: if you’re employed full-time at a university, most offer their employees free undergraduate and graduate tuition for the employee, their partners, and their dependents. The catch is that the federal government taxes graduate tuition as income (though not undergraduate tuition) and so I did have to pay the tax value. But, this was an absolutely nominal fraction of the sticker price of my degree. And so, I emerged from grad school entirely debt-free. Plus, since I’d worked all through grad school, I didn’t have any gaps in my resume.

All that to say, don’t rush into graduate school just because you’re not sure what to do after college. It’s not a waiting room or a playpen. The coursework is challenging, it’s time-consuming, and it’s freaking expensive. Don’t saddle yourself with lifelong debt just because you’re casting about for a career path. It’s far easier to take a job and see how you like it (plus, they’ll pay you for the privilege).

Adulthood Doesn’t Need To Happen All at Once

This is an error I made in my thinking post-college. I was so anxious to be a real, live grown-up that I wanted it to happen all at once. Mr. FW jokes that if I’d had my way, we would’ve graduated college, gotten married, bought a house and a car, and gotten pregnant all in the same month. He’s kind of right. Thank goodness a cooler head prevailed (his) and we waited before doing any of those things. At 22, I just didn’t have the perspective to see how young I was and how much time I had to navigate all of those milestones.

It can all wait

It can all wait

Sure, you might do all of those things immediately and it might all work out perfectly. But, don’t rush it. You have years to bring your dreams to fruition and time will give you maturity, insight, and certainty about your choices.

While Mr. FW and I did end up marrying each other just two years later at 24 (which sounds super young to me now…), I’m honestly glad we waited. We gave ourselves the opportunity to be adults together without the pressure of already being married. We lived apart and we took time to figure out what it meant for us to be in the “real world.” Then, after gaining that perspective, I felt entirely confident in my decision to say “I do.”

I was way too hard on myself right after graduation. I wanted my future adult life to fall into place immediately and I felt like a bit of a failure living with four roommates and tromping off to my temp agency job every day. But in hindsight, I’m tremendously grateful for that formative experience.

So don’t pull a Mrs. FW and panic if your ideal vision isn’t playing out right away. Instead, be like the zen Mr. FW and enjoy this phase of life for what it often is: confusing, bizarre, and uncharted. Trust me, you’ll look back on it with fondness.

Consider The Commute

Mr. FW biking off to work

Mr. FW biking off to work

When job hunting, be wary of locking yourself into a lengthy commute. When living near campus during college, a “commute” was a theoretical thing for me and Mr. FW. We walked just a few minutes to class and then a few more minutes to get downtown to the bars libraries or we biked around town. So when Mr. FW took his first job, he thought nothing of the 45 minute drive each way. It only took him three months of driving an hour and a half every day before he decided to move to an apartment 5 minutes away from his job.

A long commute eats both hours of your life as well as a good percentage of your paycheck. Mr. FW and I strategically chose the location of our current home to enable short commutes for us both. Thanks to this, Mr. FW is able to bike to work all year long (yes, even through the Boston winter) and I have a very short drive. We typically get by on just one tank of gas per month and are able to share one car. In sum, long commutes are both expensive and dumb.

Be Geographically Flexible In Your Job Search

As I bopped along at my document scanning gig the summer after graduation, I was also sending resumes out like mad. I think I applied for 50 or 60 jobs all across the country. I was willing to move just about anywhere in order to get a good job with the potential for promotion, a career path, and upward mobility. Being flexible in your job search opens up thousands of positions and gives you the opportunity to leverage the best offers.

Plus, it lends a sense of adventure to life. Once you’re actually an adult with a spouse and kids and a mortgage, your options for picking up and moving across the country are significantly more limited. I moved to New York City for my first job having never been there before. I took a plunge and I’m glad I did. It was a fascinating experience and I’m happy that I took advantage of that flexibility in my life to try something new.

After Job

Don’t Inflate Your Lifestyle

Congrats, you’re gainfully employed! But don’t take that as a license to start spending like a maniac. Just because you’re earning $30,000 per year doesn’t mean you should be spending $30,000 per year. Remember, you lived just fine on the cheap throughout college (or at least I sure hope you did), so don’t start treating yo’self right and left now that you’ve got a job. Mr. FW and I were fortunate enough to leave undergrad with no debt and we didn’t want to start incurring any as young adults.


You may think you want to work for the rest of your life and not consider early retirement, and that’s totally fine. But, living paycheck-to-paycheck will absolutely ensure that you’re never able to quit your job, no matter how badly you might want to.

And as the universe gives, it also takes away. Just because you have a job now doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed employment forever–your company could downsize, you could have a medical crisis that forces you to quit, or you could find your job less than stimulating after a few years. Saving a hefty percentage of your paycheck every month ensures that you have options. When you have a healthy savings, losing a job is an inconvenience, not a crisis.

Sign Up For Your 401(k) or 403(b) IMMEDIATELY

It really is a magical unicorn

It really is a magical unicorn

This is the only item on this list that I’d say is mandatory :). No joke, people. If you contribute to a 401(k) (or a 403(b) if you work for a nonprofit) for just the first 10 years of your employment–say from age 23 to age 33, you’ll have more money when you’re 65 than if you start contributing at age 31 and contribute for a whopping 34 years. Now that is some action you want in on.

So what’s a 401(k) and how the heck does it accrue money? Check out Mr. FW’s post all about it and the magical unicorn of compounding interest: 401ks Are Your Friend: Demystifying Personal Finance Part 3.

Sign up for your 401(k) on your first day of work and contribute at least enough every month to receive the match that your employer offers. Your older self will thank you with a comfortable retirement.

Buy Your Work Clothes From A Thrift Store

One of my fave work outfits: a wrap dress from a thrift store

One of my fave work outfits: a wrap dress from a thrift store

Yes, you will need to look professional at your new j-o-b, but no, you do not under any circumstances need to rush out and shopping spree a new wardrobe. Hit up the thrift store for a set of classic, basic items that you can rotate week to week. My favorite professional item to buy used is a dress–it’s a whole outfit in one! Throw a blazer or cardigan over the top and you’re set for year-round professional wear.

Menfolk–you can find button-down shirts and slacks used as well. We have found that there are typically fewer men’s items in thrift stores and so we’ve had to resort to buying new for Mr. FW far more often than me (ladies, no excuses!). For buying new on the cheap, check out Kohl’s, Costco, Wal-Mart, and the Gap clearance rack (we found $8 pants there for Mr. FW!).

For tips on how to thrift with the best of them, check out When to Thrift: Chic on the Cheap. And, for the stuff you can’t thrift (I’m looking at you, socks and underwear), there’s When Not to Thrift: New Clothes on a Budget.

Come To Think Of It, Buy Everything Else Used Too

Craigslist chair, table, and decor!

Craigslist chairs, table, and decor!

The temptation to fling your newfound salary at all sorts of new gadgets may be alluring, but resist and desist! Buying used furniture, cars, clothes, and housewares will save you gigantic amounts of money. Mr. FW and I furnished our entire home via Craigslist and spent a modicum of what we would’ve had we bought new.

Plus, when you buy used, you’re able to afford higher quality items than if you buy new. For example, our dining room table is solid wood that was crafted in Scandinavia and we got it used (plus four chairs) for $75. That’s cheaper than the cheapest, crappy Ikea table on the market. You’ll fare much better by shopping used. If you want to master the used market, might I suggest 12 Ways to Get a Steal on Craigslist.

Start An Emergency Fund

Now that you’re a real adult you could have real emergencies, so best to start an emergency fund. What’s an emergency fund? It’s basically just a savings account that you don’t touch except in cases of actual emergencies–like a job loss, a health crisis, or some other true emergency situation.

Common wisdom states that an emergency fund equates to 3-6 months of living expenses, which is a pretty reasonable amount. I’d err on the side of caution and aim for closer to 6 months, but 3 months is a start. This is not an “emergency pay-a-bar-tab fund.” And if you do need to tap into the fund for a true emergency, prioritize replenishing it with your next paycheck. For more, check out Unicorns, Soviets, and Compound Interest: Demystifying Personal Finance Part 1.

Final Thoughts

Transitioning from college to the working world doesn’t have to be a stressful, fraught experience. It’s a unique chance to basically start a whole new life and create the future that you want to live. Setting yourself on a fiscally responsible path early in your adult life will yield countless dividends later. Take this opportunity to start life right. And remember: frugality gives you options. Debt, on the other hand, only serves to restrain you.

What advice would you give to a recent college graduate? What do you wish you’d known?

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84 Responses

  1. Lia @ TechPF says:

    As a recent grad myself, I totally agree with all of this advice. Everything you’ve said is totally on-point, and I’ve even managed to follow most of it (with perhaps the exception of “Adulthood Doesn’t Need to Happen All at Once”, because I too have a tendency to be very eager to be an “adult”).

    What you said about grad school particularly hit home with me. Many of my friends go to grad school because they’re just not sure what to do with their lives. Although engineers nearly always get their grad school paid for, they’re missing out on 100k jobs to toil away as the lackey of a professor for god-knows-how-long. Some of them are there because they’re passionate about their field, and good for them, but the ones who are just “figuring things out” could figure things out at a high-paying job just as easily. But school is what they’ve always done, and where they’re comfortable.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      The Siren call of grad school can be very persuasive for those of us who did well in school. But I certainly agree with you that, especially in tech, a grad degree is required in a tiny percentage of tech jobs. Get that B.S. and then get to work!

  2. All great tips. It took me a few years post college to land a career job, but continue to work other jobs just to make sure I was earning money. That’s an important point. Don’t feel these type of jobs are beneath you. Just keep plugging along until your find a keeper.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Yep, I know people who spent their last dime looking for the job they “deserved” while turning down opportunities to make money in the meantime at jobs that didn’t require their expertise. I understand it, but it’s self defeating in the end.

  3. I always say that I wish someone had told me that adulthood is exactly like high school in take you’ll still be putting in 40 hours a week, five days a week (assuming you work full time). If I had any concept of this, I think I would have reconsidered my majors in college and the jobs that I sought after graduation–I really had no idea what kind of commitment I was making when I graduated at 21. Thanks for the post!

  4. bev says:

    Great advice. I hope everyone listens to this. The 401k is the biggie, too. I kick myself every day for not signing up for our plan decades ago, which was quite generous. I thought $35/month was something I couldn’t afford at the time, and while it sounds like a silly amount now, I would be sitting pretty if I had done it. Kick, kick, kick…………

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Eh, the past is the past. We’ve all done boneheaded things. I could have contributed more to my 401k early on but didn’t. I never ended up needing that extra safety cushion and the market returns from that money would have been… impressive. 🙂

  5. Gretchen says:

    As always, stellar advice! I wish more people would consider moving back in with their parents! My brother in law did just that when he got out of the Marines. He didn’t attend college, but still. Everyone gives him a hard time, but what they don’t realize is that he is actually really smart with his money, and living with the parents, especially since he’s not really on a path to settle down anytime soon, saves him tons of money!

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Society looks at it like a failure, but I really think it’s a sign of maturity. The financial sense is clear, but I also think it’s a great motivator to get out there and excel at your new career.

  6. Kalie says:

    This is really good advice & encouragement for new grads. I always say to keep living like a college student at least until you pay off your loans, and longer if you want to not work forever! Jumping into car or credit card debt, buying new furniture and furnishings, going in debt for a wedding or even a house are all setting yourself up for failure. Living with roommates, driving a beater or a bike, and thrifting are actually fun as well as frugal. Somehow many people of our generation think they should live like their parents as soon as they land a job. But many of our parents took a long time to get established–and maybe we don’t want the same lives as them, anyway.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Really solid point about our generation expecting to *immediately* have the same quality of life as our parents currently do. They spent years building their lifestyle, plus they did it during the greatest economic expansion this country has ever seen. Our generation probably won’t be so lucky!

  7. There’s SO MUCH good advice in this post!! A lot of it sounded vaguely familiar – “vaguely” because next year is my 20th college reunion! – and there’s a lot that I see in the college students I work with. I work in a career center, so questions about life plans, jobs, and grad school, are very common. I still see a good number of students going to grad school because they don’t know what else to do, or they don’t have another option. I ALWAYS caution them not to commit the time and money unless they’re certain it’s something they want to do.

    Oh, and as the wife of a lawyer still paying off his law school loans, I can attest to the heavy burden of that debt. My husband often wonders if he should’ve gone to a state law school, instead of the private school he chose…

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      I was _this_ close to going to law school. If I had, I would have graduated in the spring of 09… what has to be the worst year for law graduates in the history of the profession. I wish I could say that I was prescient… but I think I was mostly lucky to have friends who counseled me to try a career in my current field first and go back to law school in the future if I was still interested. Wise, wise advice.

      • Bev says:

        I am jealous of your decision to resist law school! I went immediately after college without giving it a second thought, and without realizing it is completely wrong for my personality (after a year of litigation, billable hours were wearing me down and the pressure of court rooms was exhausting this introvert). I am now happier working in a non-law related position at a university, but my $160,000 loans will haunt me for years to come!

  8. Fiby says:

    Hahahaha “Mr. FW jokes that if I’d had my way, we would’ve graduated college, gotten married, bought a house and a car, and gotten pregnant all in the same month. He’s kind of right. ” I always appreciate the humor in your posts =)

    The financial aspect of attending grad school doesn’t necessarily cost money (in the accounting sense). Typically PhD students in engineering (and I believe the sciences as well) get their tuition waived (not subject to tax) and a stipend (subject to tax). I’m completing my second year right now and I having been making substantial contributions to my investment accounts (max my Roth every year, and invest in a taxable account on top of that).

    I think for me being in grad school gave me a “halfway point” between being an undergrad and a real adult where I could figure some things out. I’m really it worked out this way because I definitely needed to mature before I had any chance of making it in the real world (not that I am in the real world now…but I’m pretty close).

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      For some people grad school is definitely the right choice. I just think that sometimes people see it as the “default” choice and don’t think about their career opportunities post-school. Plus in some professions the lost wages for those years can be a substantial opportunity cost.

      • Fiby says:

        Oh yea I think I may not actually come out ahead in terms of lifetime earning potential in BS vs PhD if you factor in average investment gains to lost wages for years spent getting my PhD. But I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to hit FI by 40 anyway so it doesn’t matter to me. Plus, I wanted the PhD anyway.

        But for sure, I’ve heard too many people rely on going back to school as a “default”

  9. Tarynkay says:

    I am your cautionary tale! I totally went to law school after college just bc I didn’t know what else to do. I took the LSAT “just to see how I would do” then I applied to schools, again “just to see.” I was offered a full tuition scholarship at a 2nd tier school, so I figured I would be crazy not to take it. But I still had to pay living expenses in southern CA, so I still graduated with some debt. Now I am staying home with my son, wasting my degree. So I get to make loan payments and feel guilty about betraying feminism. I still hope to use this stupid degree someday, but I feel like it would have been smarter to skip it.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I don’t think you’re betraying feminism by staying home with your son–quite the contrary. I think you’re pursuing the most noble profession there is. I believe that the ultimate articulation of feminism is being able to do what you want with your life. So I say, kudos to you! But bummer on the loan payments.

  10. Norm says:

    Graduating is a real nightmare. At least for me, it was. I didn’t have a job, so it was like leaving the cozy, carefree semi-adult life of school for the cold, sad real world. Marge and I were living in separate states, both with our parents, and we determined that whoever got a job first, that is where the other person would move. She got a job first, and eventually so did I. So after six or seven awful months being apart, we promptly got an apartment.

    I’m glad I signed up for work’s 401k as soon as I started, but I wish I started with more than 2 percent!

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Wow, you took the hard but responsible road post college! Mrs. FW and I were similarly apart post college, and it was a long 12 months. Turned out to be the right decision for our careers but it felt awful at the time.

      I think my first 401k contribution level was 4% (of a very modest salary!), so don’t feel bad. Thankfully I heeded some wise advice from a friend and really cranked it up after my first raise… but I didn’t really need that extra money at the time and it would have been better to get it in the market.

  11. Smart thoughts, Mrs. FW. And advice more people should take. Too often they fall, like we did, into the world of wanting to “have it all” now that we’re “real” grownups. 🙂 Hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day and that Frugal Hound made sure to spoil you. 🙂

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you so much! Frugal Hound was very cute all day long, which I think is her method of spoiling ;). Hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day!

  12. Wonderful advice! Too much for one comment. 🙂 I love that the lemonade you made of that first job was listening to radio! I’m kind of obsessed with podcasts and I really loved listening to them while doing labwork. I think I was a much better conversationalist at that time because I had lots of facts and stories bouncing around in my head.

    The only piece of advice I don’t super agree with is to consider moving back in with parents (well, that and used clothes – sorry, won’t do it!). You probably aren’t crazy about it either, since you didn’t do it. (Also, this is very white American of me to say – that is my cultural bias.) I lived with my parents right after college and again this spring, and while there are certainly financial and other kinds of benefits, I think it stunts your development. You learn and grow so much more when you have to run your own household, and I think that’s worth a lot! Obviously I didn’t follow my own advice when I moved in with them for the second time, but that second go-round helped me see how much more independent and able to deal with the world I was than when I lived with them the first time.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Yeah, there is certainly a danger of getting “too comfortable” by moving back in with the folks. I’ve seen that a couple of times. I think it depends on the young adult and parent’s relationship and personality. For some people, moving back in with the folks is a tremendous motivator to get their adult life in gear and move out.

      But I’ve also seen plenty of people finance the lifestyle they think they should have as a newly minted college grad while looking for their perfect job. And that often ends poorly.

      • MEL810 says:

        It might work out if they have parents that charge them some of the expenses and require them to help out around the house and encourage them to be adults, not overgrown kids,. Parents need to equip kids for their own, independent lives no matter what their circumstances. Only then should a parent consider allowing the brood back home. Otherwise you will have ‘ a failure to launch” and that is a mess for all involved.
        Because of weird life circumstances (I was an only child of an older mother. We were abused and financially neglected by my father, As a result, my mom, over-compensated and was too possessive and didn’t want me to grow up because she was too afraid for me. Admittedly, I was royal screw-up in my early adulthood but I think if my mom hadn’t hovered so much, I might have landed on my feet earlier in life. As it was I don’t think I truly grew up until she passed on when I was about 40. I have been playing catch-up ever since.
        And don’t get me started on my mr’s bone-headed brother who was partially relying on mom’s support when he was almost 60 and she was 80+! And no, the guy is not disabled; just an idiotic bone-head who parents coddled him way too much.

  13. Rachel says:

    Be willing to be flexible in the types of jobs you apply for. My degree was one that I could fit into so many different types of jobs, I applied to whatever I could. I ended up in a job I wasn’t sure about but after a year I have learned it’s a great place and is family friendly and flexible.

    Also have your resume professionally reviewed.

    Take whatever interviews you can, it’s a good learning experience.

    Stay on your parents health insurance until you find the job you want. Thanks to the affordable care act you can stay on until you are 26.

    To go along with the buying used, accept hand me down furniture. My parents and aunts and uncles were getting rid of furniture about the time we moved into our house, we totally accepted it and don’t regret it one bit.

    And being flexible in geographic location is good, but also consider cost of living. My husband has been looking at jobs in the mountain towns of our state, the cost of living can be double for housing from where we are yet the salaries are less. So we usually steer clear of those.

    Jobs that have good benefits including medical,dental vision and 401k matches might pay less but when all things are factored in they can be better than a job with higher pay.

    Don’t be afraid of government jobs. Some people steer clear, but I have a psychology degree, I have a stable job with an undergraduate degree that is not always well paying. If nothing else it’s a starting point that can get you into better areas.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Excellent point about the insurance angle. The ACA has really been a blessing in that regard. I know several 20-somethings who reimburse their parents for the (small) cost of their insurance while they are working temp jobs and looking for permanent career work. That used to be a real gamble without insurance.

    Twice, in fact. I got a temp job scanning engineering reports and then HR files. Holy boring Batman, but it paid well and got my foot in the door with my current employer. I was not thrilled to have a master’s degree and be scanning documents, but the paycheque was delightful. I was also in a windowless room, but I must have been senior enough to be trusted to do the scans 😉

    • gwen says:

      Thats the masters for you!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Must’ve been the master’s that enabled you to use the actual scanner ;). Me with my lowly BA wasn’t allowed to touch it. But it is one of those jobs that pays surprisingly well!

  15. MEL810 says:

    Great advice! For the newly minted adult and college graduate. AND for others, such as those of us who are nearing standard retirement age and may need to ‘downsize’ a bit to adjust to post retirement income.
    These days there are myriad options vis-à-vis education. While there are some jobs that absolutely require a degree or a post-grad degree, not all good jobs require such a degree. And these days one can get tons of skill training and upgrading for a fraction of the cost of traditional education.
    I don’t do well in traditional college settings. I get all A’s, get Phi Beta Kappa/Honor Society and then screw the pooch by getting bored at having to take courses that do nothing for me (here’s looking at you English and Sociology of the Family! ) or my career track and having some life crisis (illness, death of loved ones, loss of job, etc.) derail me completely. During my last trad.ed. foray, I hated sitting in class at the community college having to team with young inner city kids (to me 18 is a very young kid!) that seemingly had less education coming out high school than I had in elementary school. And dudes, I am NOT interested in anime and gaming. DUH?
    I think much of traditional-style education will be outmoded in the near future. Education needs to change. Not only is it bankrupting an entire generation before they even get their feet wet in the real world. it is BORING and lacks skill emphasis!
    However, I can and do learn well on my own. I largely self-taught in many of my personal interests. I am taking online classes and doing well. They are a fraction of the cost of what I would pay at the CC (I have gotten some really good sign on and Group On type discounts!) and they are more skill intensive.
    YES! I intend to transition using these skills to home and online work and to be able to have a decent income when I leave my ‘day job’ which I hope to do within the year.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      The expensive college model of education is certainly under fire. So far the online courses seem great for skill training but may lack somewhat in the networking that traditional college can provide. Though if you already have a built in network in your community that lack of networking is probably less of a big deal.

      • MEL810 says:

        Unless you attend a decent private college or well-rated public uni like UVA or an Ivy League sort of school, the networking opportunities at regular undergraduate colleges, esp. the CC and state colleges ain’t that hot. If you are not from a ‘connected’ family or group, no one steps up to guide you and you are basically on your own except for student resources which are invariably over-crowded and under-funded. And many otherwise bright people haven’t the foggiest idea of how to begin. There are mentoring programs for the very connected, the very bright and/or the disadvantaged student but the average Joe and Jane is left out of the mix.
        One complaint I have heard from people who attended the state and CC colleges is there is almost no networking and job seeking support for the students. I used to work at a state uni & a CC and I know this to be a huge problem. In certain fields (some of the STEM programs and medicine and law have great networking but liberal arts and the arts, not so much.

  16. I didn’t inflate my lifestyle too much, but there definitely was some inflation. I wish I toned it back a bit, and didn’t care what my friends were doing.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Yep. Thankfully (?) the first job I had out of college ran me ragged with 12 hour days, 7 days a week. No time for lifestyle inflation 🙂

  17. My wife and I dated since high school and got married 2 years after college. She was still in grad school but it really gave us a good head start instead of putting the whole wedding on credit. Very good advice!

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      I’m definitely a fan of waiting a bit post-college before tying the knot. People sometimes change dramatically between college and adulthood… and it’s smart to navigate those changes before marriage.

      • MEL810 says:

        And that brings us to the often exorbitant costs of weddings! Geese Louise! Many people seem to think the blushing bride needs a celebrity caliber wedding regardless of their or their families budgets.
        Some of our wedding customs are holdovers from when the bride was a form of property to be transferred over to a (hopefully) prosperous husband. I question whether most modern men and women (aside from royalty) need to have such nuptials.

  18. less4success says:

    Great advice! I especially like the “get a job–any job–after you graduate” and “don’t immediately go to grad school” ones.

    One relevant anecdote: I have a friend who graduated straight into a recession and was funemployed (actually: miserable) for a year or so after graduating. Then, she took a random job working with kids with disabilities (completely unrelated to her undergrad degree) and discovered that, not only did she love the job, she was really good at it. She has since gotten a graduate degree in her new field and is gainfully employed with a job she enjoys. It’s your advice in action 🙂

  19. Greypaws says:

    Awesome advice and perspective. I personally only disagree with the ‘consider moving back home with the parents’. When our son was trying to decide what he wanted to be when he grew up aka graduate from high school, he asked our advice. We told him he should think about what he absolutely likes best in the world and then figure out how to make money doing it. He was welcome to live at home until he was 30 if he wanted to, although once he thought he was all grown up and moved out, that was it. He could come back with a suitcase for visits but not move back permanently. You see, almost all of our friends had boomerange kids, they not only moved back with Mom & Dad, they came with kids, sometimes spouses and furniture in tow. It was miserable for everyone involved. Son made a great choice for himself and will be retiring next year at 39 yrs old, Navy Chief. He is set up so he can do exactly as he pleases for the rest of his life. I know he’ll find some kind of work but lack of money is not an issue he’ll need to deal with.

    My advice to all young people “Choose slowly, wisely and carefully, don’t be afraid to change course if Plan A does suit you and don’t be in such a hurry to be all grown up. You only get to be a kid for 20-25 yrs and you have to be an adult for 60-70 years 🙂

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Yeah, I can see how clear parameters and expectations from the outset could be really key. Congrats on your son’s great Navy career! Sound like he made an excellent choice, and getting his 20 at age 39 is an enviable position to be in.

  20. Great tips! I am totally guilty of some of these, like lifestyle inflation after I landed my job. I thought I could afford to spend more since I made more. Boy was I wrong! I should’ve been paying off my student loan and the little credit card debt I had instead of racking up even more.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Society sure makes that seem like the normal course of action. You’ve turned it around though!

  21. This is GREAT advice!! My dad told me when I graduated that I couldn’t move home, but if someone has the opportunity (i.e. a nicer parent than mine) then I HIGHLY recommend that they move back home. I have one client who lives home now and she has regular savings goals, but then she is also saving the equivalent of rent to not only prepare her monthly for her budgeting but also grow her savings really fast. Living at home is a great way to build a strong financial base when you are just starting out.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      People will laugh at you for it, but you can laugh all the way to the bank. Rent can be such a high percentage of a person’s take home in a first job! I’ve even know someone who’s parents lived in NYC and they rented a studio 15 blocks away just to be “independent”. I get it, but man… the money they could have saved even just living at home for a year!

  22. This is great advice. I have nearly the same law school story as Mr. FW. I received my acceptance letter to law school two weeks into my first job after college. I was really interested in the work I was currently doing and I was comparing it to 3 more years of school, LOTS of debt, and not knowing if I wanted to do that as a career. I stayed with my job and am still here 8 years later.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Turned out great for me. I can’t imagine graduating law school and going out straight into the teeth of the recession. Would have been a giant mess. So glad I decided to forgo that experience!

  23. I agree, try to graduate without any debt. Debt shackles you! Hell even having a small mortgage is psychologically burdensome! Avoid buying a bunch of clothes or things, don’t buy a super expensive car. All things take maintenance. If you can figure out your life without a car, then don’t get one. It takes so much money just to keep them running. Save, save, and invest, invest, invest! I’m only 25, but I already feel a little more relief knowing we have an emergency fund.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      “All things take maintenance” Truth! And that maintenance really starts to pile up after a while!

  24. Spot-on advice! Glad Mr. FW dodged the law school bullet. I briefly worked in a law school’s career office and there were sure some tense, unhappy, broke people with their loans coming due and no jobs lined up.

    I did a lot of very sensible things after graduating, but one thing I wish I had realized sooner was that life is not a race or a contest. (When I talked with my adviser about how I was graduating early to get married–yes, I really did that, and worked as a receptionist for a year while Mr. FP finished his degree–and whether I could still do an honors thesis, she TRIED to tell me it wasn’t a race. But I was 19 and I was SO not listening.)

    I was too busy racking up achievements–I graduated and I’m only 20! I’m married! I’m going to grad school!–to give enough thought to what I actually wanted to do. Fortunately, after I dropped out of graduate school and tried teaching for a few years, I found it anyway. Being a librarian is freakin’ awesome.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      I didn’t know you were a librarian, how cool! I think as over-achievers, Mrs. FW and I felt like we should keep “winning” once we graduated from undergrad. I’m glad we figured out quickly that taking things a bit slower is OK. Sounds like you came around to that too.

  25. Devan says:

    So much good advice here – you and Mr. Frugalwoods should do a college tour and share your wisdom! My husband and I married right after we graduated from college and moved so hubby could take his first “real” job in his field. He only ended up staying in that job a few months (because he was being asked to do things he wasn’t trained to do and his boss was insane). So there we were, broke newlyweds, with our bright, shiny BA degrees, both working at the mall – me at Victoria’s Secret and him at Toys R Us. But looking back, we both learned a lot during that time and it helped us to set up some good frugal habits for the future. It also helped my husband to see that he was good at sales (he sold bicycles and loved it), which led him to selling cars for a while, which led him to getting recruited by one of his repeat customers for a kick-ass job in his field, where he has been very happy for almost 10 years. So you never know where that so-called “crappy job” might lead. (My stint at Victoria’s Secret did not lead to permanent meaningful work, but it certainly cemented my frugality when it comes to undergarments – seeing what people would spend in there was CRAZY!!) A couple jobs later, I ended up at a college that paid my masters degree tuition for me. It was extra awesome because I was able to complete a really unique hybrid program offered by that college that I never would have thought to seek out right after I graduated, but I loved it and it has served me very well. Final comment: Thrift store work clothes rule! I still have this one awesome blazer that I got for a few dollars when I started my first office job, and I still wear it regularly!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Sounds like you two were really savvy! I love that you both worked even though they weren’t ideal jobs. I can’t imagine how much people spend at Victoria’s Secret–that’s definitely one of those store I do not understand :). And, how awesome that your husband’s hustling led to a great job! Tuition remission has to be the best deal out there–I tell everyone to take advantage of it if that can. And, amen to thrift stores. Sounds like we have quite a bit in common :).

    • MEL810 says:

      I figured out right after they first got popular that “Victoria’s Secret” is to convince average women and their male partners that if only they buy enough V.S.panties, bras, nighties, etc. the ladies will all suddenly look like Giselle Bundchen and the guys will all become Tom Brady or George Clooney. ;>

      • Devan says:

        Ha ha, yes, there was definitely a good bit of “aspirational buying” going on 🙂 But there were also many sweet husbands and boyfriends, trying to find something nice for their ladies. I would usually steer them toward the flowy nightgowns, as most of these guys had absolutely no idea what size their lady needed. (I heard “Uhh, she’s about your size” SO many times. Um, really? I bet she’s not 🙂 VS did give their associates really good training in how to do measurements and help the customer find a bra that fit well. But if you look at all the lingerie model ladies in their ads, they are all wearing bras that are like two sizes to small for them! We would always be like, dude, that model needs to come in for a fitting!!

        • MEL810 says:

          Word to those sweet guys: we ladies do not enjoy wearing b**t floss. (otherwise known as string or thong type panties and teddies.)
          Flowy nighties are fine!
          And I agree, things are always ‘busting out’ all over on the V.S. models. I guess they size them too small to make their ta-tas look bigger on camera. I always laugh at the blatant promotion of the V.S. lingerie show on TV. It’s the TV version of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. Marketing disguised as eye candy for men. It is amazing how many people are totally lead by Madison Avenue marketers in this society and seemingly have no idea that that is the case.
          That show is there to make the guys drool and get the guys and ladies to go buy more stuff.
          I did get a decent cotton underwire bra on sale at V.S. and then they stopped making that model. One time I bought a bunch of panties on a good sale but they are too flimsy and fall apart after a few washings and wears.

  26. Tawcan says:

    Definitely great tips for new college graduates. Very good point on graduate school. A lot of my classmates went to graduate school, spent 6 something years to get a Ph.D and they’re earning not-so-good salary in comparison.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Yeah, it’s a tough call I think on whether or not grad school is worth it. Especially if you’re paying full price!

  27. When I was a newly grad, I wanted to have a car. So, that was what I did. I saved money for that car. After some years, I finally had car with a help from a loan. I considered it a mistake. I wish I should not have done it or at least got a used car. So, never be on a rush in getting a new car.

  28. doa says:

    I’m right there, finishing my engineering masters in a couple of months (loans of approx. $36000 at 1%), and I have my first absurdly well paid job lined up… I’m terrified I’ll go nuts and go out and buy expensive suits or start eating out again! Zero interest in cars, travel and gadgets, but my biggest concern is I might need to buy an apartment (aka get a giant mortgage) to find a place to live. How to counteract the possibility of lifestyle inflation and find a balance between necessary and unnecessary new expenses… it’s a brave new world after living on less than $600 a month (which is very little where I live – zero entertainment budget for the win! ;)), where you get student discounts on pretty much everything and eat lentil soup on most days (yum!).

    I don’t mean to sound like a complainypants, I know I’m extremely fortunate both in financial lessons from my mother, very generous student loans, finding awesome blogs like MMM and Frugalwoods months ago AND getting the only job I truly wanted. A healthy dose of fear will probably help keep me on track in this absurd fountain of wealth and fortune. I find I’ve needed to pinch myself regularly lately… kinda like I’ve been transported to an alternative universe :))

    Lentil soup and thrift stores it is! And I love all the furniture and houseware I’ve inherited all the way back from my great grandparents 🙂

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I’m sure you’ll find a good balance between saving and spending with your new salary. I think it’s all about what your goals are. Once you set your financial goals, you can just calibrate your spending/saving accordingly. The very fact that you’re mulling it over means you’re on the right track already. Congrats on finishing your degree and having a job lined up!

  29. MEL810 says:

    As probably the senior poster on this thread I have a piece of advice to give to the younger folks;
    PERSERVE YOUR HEALTH! Eat healthy, exercise, fresh air, sunshine, drink water, rest, pray and/or meditate. Don’t smoke. Stay emotionally healthy.
    Although you are young, don’t over do the drinking. No drugs. Not too much random ‘hooking up’. Don’t try ‘jack ass’ style pranks.
    Not only will staying healthy save you money (regardless of insurance , medical care is expensive what with co-pays and deductibles, etc. ) it will save you years of pain and suffering.
    If I could go back and reverse some of the stupid choices I made in my younger years, I would be way healthier now and have more money in the bank. Sometimes, regardless of your habits, accidents happen and illnesses strike but you can avoid some of these problems.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s great advice! Taking care of your health is absolutely a gift you can give yourself for the future.

  30. brian says:

    I wish i was more involved with the blogging community right when I graduatted from college…..while I didn’t make any decisions that were too dumb, I didn’t exactly set myself up for maximum success either. This is terrific advice, and I will forward you post to my brother who graduates this weekend/

  31. Hannah says:

    Insanely great advice! The only advice I ever give is that it’s okay to not have life all figured out- I certainly don’t and I’m married have a job, a house, a car and a kid.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I agree–it is so OK not to have it all figured out. I learn new things about myself every year! Keeps life interesting 🙂

  32. “So while you’re searching for your dream job, don’t waste time, earn money.” Ugh I know so many people who feel some work is beneath them and therefore they don’t do it. Or like you said, they just jump right back into school because it’s been several months and they can’t get a job in their field. While I don’t think anyone should be stuck in mindless boring jobs that don’t pay well for TOO long, I do think we all have to pay our dues somewhat.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      So true! Nothing wrong with doing some menial work to pass the time! After all, it’s money in the bank!

  33. Chonce says:

    Great advice! I’m pretty happy I chose not to go to grad school right after undergrad as well. I initially wanted an MBA but in a short time after graduating and getting a job, my mind already changed about that. It’s hard to fight off lifestyle inflation after you get your first professional job but it’s not impossible and in fact it’s crucial if you want to ensure a better life in the future.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Well said! I think it’s hard to really know what you want to do for the long run right after undergrad. I certainly didn’t know! And, agreed on the lifestyle inflation–our culture really says that it’s the thing to do.

  34. Kurt says:

    This is really an excellent list! I think a few big, key decisions for a new grad can make all the difference in setting oneself up for long-term financial success. And you hit on all of these big decisions.

    One addition I’d suggest: factor in the availability of carsharing in a decision about where to live and work. Carsharing, transit, rental cars, taxis, cycling, and walking instead of owning a car can save loads of money, and time!

  35. Heather says:

    I wish I’d have immediately taken advantage of the Thrift Savings Plan at my first job with the military (kind of like a 401k) but unfortunately I waited about 7 years! Oh well, we learn! I’ve found new professional work clothes at Old Navy and Target and some great used ones at stores such as Clothes Mentor. You don’t have to spend a lot to look professional!

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Definitely don’t need to spend a lot to look professional. Mrs. FW works in a more formal workplace than I do, and her thrifted wardrobe blends in quite well with her colleague’s pricey fashions.

  36. Mrs FW,

    Great advice. We followed most of these and benefitted greatly. Probably the biggest was figuring out a way to get our advanced degrees paid for by employers which greatly increased our earning power w/o any debt.

    Our mistakes: We tried too hard to be adults right out of the blocks and locked ourselves into a mortgage and 1.5 hour commutes in opposite directions. We also totally missed the boat on investing in our 401(k) and made massive mistakes investing with an advisor in taxable accounts. However, we changed course as soon as we realized and were able to do so in a way that made sense.

    I could only add one piece of advice. No one will get all these things right. When you realize that you made a mistake, stop it as soon as possible and don’t be afraid to change course.


    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Hah, yeah, I think we’re all guilty of trying to attain some sort of “adult” status before we need to. There’s something about finishing college that just makes everyone want to do _anything_ in their power to feel more adult.

  37. Mackenzie says:

    Boy, do I love your blog! Entertaining, intelligent, and those Frugal Hound pictures just melt my heart. 🙂

    As everyone has already said, your advice is spot-on. I didn’t want to go to grad school immediately after undergrad (unlike a lot of my friends)– finding a job was much more intimidating, and the rejection you feel when you’ve submitted what seems like thousands of applications with no response certainly puts a damper on the “I’m an adult! Woohoo!” mentality.

    After a few years in the work force, I’m now going to grad school, but my decision is much more informed. I want to go NOT because it feels more comfortable (quite the contrary– I’m moving to Texas, and Texas kind of scares me), but because it will help me attain my career goals. Plus, because I’m getting a PhD in the sciences, tuition is waived and I’m getting paid to go (albeit much less than my current job, but, hey, it’s something!).

    I’m still young and stupid (23, almost 24), but I’m amazed at how much I’ve learned since I graduated at 21. I’m excited to try some of your frugal strategies– my goal is to continue saving and investing even though my paycheck has taken a major cut. My biggest drain on saving is going out with friends, so that will probably be the hardest challenge.

    Anyway, keep up the great work, and congratulations on Babywoods! 🙂 I’m excited to keep reading!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thanks so much for reading :)! Sounds like you’ve made a very thoughtful decision to pursue grad school. And, that’s awesome you’ll be getting paid! Not going into debt over school is a wonderful gift to your future self. I wish you all the very best :).

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