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The Broke Grad’s Guide to Thriving in the Real World

Posted by The Frugal Diva on June 20th, 2014

Email this guest post to your new grad.

Graduating college is an exciting moment, right? Maybe not.

Total student debt has topped $1 trillion this year and the average college graduate owes more than $33,000 in outstanding payments upon commencement. So, it’s understandable why young adults are filled with more fear than joy about earning their diploma and entering the real world. While finding a good job is paramount, learning how to budget and discovering ways to save on everyday expenses offers the best chance to surviving life after college.

If you or a recent grad in your life faces this same scenario, consider these top money moves for making the switch from college to real life manageable.

Optimize your repayments. Get a handle on what you owe by reviewing all your accounts. If you find you’re struggling or falling behind, get help before it’s too late. Making late student loan payments (or missing them altogether) will negatively impact your credit score which can take years to rebuild. For help, check the Student Debt Repayment Assistant from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. You can often negotiate a repayment schedule that fits your budget or even get your loan payments deferred.

Lower your rental costs. You may be eager to live on your own, but roommates offer a significant financial relief for rental costs. The more roommates you have, the cheaper your total living expenses will be. Keep in mind that location matters, too. The closer you live to the city center, the more expensive rent will be, so look for a place located further from the hot spot of town. To avoid broker fees, use sites like Craigslist and Apartable.com for no-fee listings.

Join a credit union. Credit unions offer the same services as regional and national banks but typically have less fees and lower loan rates. Credit unions also typically pay higher savings yields and are more sympathetic toward struggling borrowers. To find a credit union that suits your needs, review this list.

Search for coupons before you pay for anything. Whether you need new shoes, food for your pooch or an oil change, search for coupons before pay. Free mobile tools like the Coupon Sherpa mobile app make this task easy, offering savings for our half a million physical locations in the U.S. You can also use your phone to compare prices with the Pricegrabber barcode-scanning app or earn rewards while you shop with Shopkick.

Get savvy in the kitchen. Eating out for breakfast, lunch and dinner will seriously drain your paycheck and leave you with just enough to cover basic living expenses. Get in the habit of preparing lunch and cooking meals for yourself. Cook one large meal like this Roast Chicken to give yourself plenty of options throughout the week, including chicken salads, sandwiches and pasta dishes.

Live without cable and prepay your cellphone. Cutting the cord on pricey cable bills is easier to do these days thanks to free online video streaming services like Hulu that hook right up to your TV. For more programming and newer release options, check out Hulu Plus and Netflix for just $8 per month — a cheap bill when split among roommates. You can also hook up an indoor HDTV antenna to get more channels than basic cable with no monthly bills. When it comes to your cellphone, consider switching to no-contract, prepaid wireless services to avoid hidden fees and punitive charges. This way, you pay for what you use and nothing more.

Become a second-hand shopper. A wise man once told me that no one will know the shirt you’re wearing was bought at the Salvation Army. This is a great principal to live by considering buying used can reduce your total spending by up to 90 percent. Whether you need professional clothes, kitchen goods or furniture for your new apartment, search gently-used options at garage sales, local consignment stores, speciality sites like RecycleYourFashions.com and thredUp.com or more mainstream sites like eBay. Don’t forget, this is a great time to sell clothing and other goods you no longer use for funds towards a future purchase.

Get a side hustle. At this point, maximizing your cash flow will help you pay down debt faster. Take on an extra gig after hours like waitressing, bartending or freelancing. Or consider doing other people’s “to-dos” via TaskRabbit, where you can peruse tasks in your area and submit offers for such activities as grocery shopping, dog walking and even photography. If TaskRabbit is not available in your area, check the “gigs” section on Craigslist for options ranging from labor to writing to creative.

Build your credit wisely. Opening a new line of credit may seem counterintuitive while paying down school debt, but building a healthy credit score now will ensure you receive the best rates on future mortgages, insurance and other expenses. To help manage your credit card wisely, treat it like a debit card and only charge transactions for which you have the cash to cover. Pay off the balance in full each month so interest doesn’t overwhelm any rewards. For help finding the right credit card with low APR, consult Nerd Wallet’s list of the best credit cards for 2014.

Save for the future. It’s tough to think about retirement when you have student-related debts to pay. However, if your employer offers a 401k match plan, turning it down is like leaving money on the table. Even if you can only match the percentage they’re contributing, you’re doing your future self a financial solid. Most experts agree that young people have a distinct advantage over everyone else when it comes to saving for the future: time. Don’t waste yours!

Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert for Kinoli Inc., who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. She has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. You can follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.