4 Smart Things You Should Do With Your First Real Paycheck

By Denise Hill on 22 May 2018 0 comments

You've finally landed your first real job. And with that, comes your first real paycheck. This is a monumental occasion and should be celebrated. But what should you do? Should you blow all of your funds on an expensive and wild weekend? Should you buy a new wardrobe? Or should you just pay your bills and save the rest?

The answer to this question depends on your overall financial plan, your budget, and your surplus once you've met all of your obligations. An important thing to do once you receive that first check (preferably before) is to establish a plan. It's OK to splurge a little and celebrate the fact that you are officially a taxpaying, adulting member of society. However, it's critical that you use this first paycheck to jump-start your journey to financial independence.

Here are some important money moves you should make with your first real paycheck.

Let your money breathe

This sounds ridiculous, I know. But one of the biggest challenges people with newfound wealth face is getting used to having money.

One of the most important things to remember is that your thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes about money directly influence how you spend it. When you're not used to having it, it's easy to spend a small windfall immediately. And often, you overspend. You have to give yourself time to acclimate to having money. Paradigm shifts take time. Allowing your checking and savings account to remain full can be difficult.

If possible, allow the money to sit for a while. Pay your bills and let what's left breathe. Buy only what you absolutely need, at least at first. You don't have to go out to eat, buy new clothes, or cop a new ride just because you're earning steady money. Begin conditioning your mind to enjoy seeing a positive checking and savings balance. And vow to keep the trend going.

Create a budget

The most important thing to do with that first paycheck is to create a budget before you spend a dime. Once you see exactly what you're working with, establish a spending and savings plan by creating a zero-based-budget. You want to give every dollar a purpose. There's no such thing as leftover money or a surplus. Every dollar is accounted for, and if you do find a way to save a buck, that buck goes to savings.

Creating a budget is a great way to set a good financial habit moving forward. It's like establishing a healthy diet, but with finances. It helps you determine correct portion sizes and helps you guard against overextending yourself and becoming house poor. It allows you to see where every dollar is going. It also helps you to better track your spending and find ways to save during lean times. (See also: How to Budget When You're No Longer Broke)

When you receive your first paycheck, make a list of all of your regular monthly bills, debts, and necessary expenses along with the due dates, in order of importance. This not only helps you see what needs to be paid and when, but it also helps you establish payment priorities in case there ever is a shortfall.

There are multiple budgeting, bill pay, and tracking apps that can help you streamline your finances. But the most important thing is getting it all written down — in some form — and having a plan. Taking the time to organize your finances and create a budget with your first paycheck sets you on the path to good financial stewardship. (See also: These 5 Apps Will Help You Finally Organize Your Money)

Establish a solid savings plan

After you've listed and prioritized your bills and expenses, it's important that you add savings to the budget and move it to the top of the list. It should be ahead of everything. Your budget shows you how much you owe and how much you have left after the necessities are paid — which allows you to determine how much you should save each month. The old financial advice, "Pay yourself first" is still very true and should begin with your first paycheck.

Start by establishing how much you can afford to save and lock in that number. If possible, set up an automatic transfer so that as soon as your paycheck is deposited into your bank account, your savings amount is automatically transferred to another dedicated savings account. That way you never see the funds. You won't miss what you never see.

Part of savings involves establishing your retirement and emergency fund. Traditionally, an emergency fund is three to six months' worth of daily living expenses, but can be more or less depending on your particular circumstances. This fund should only be used in real emergencies, like an urgent medical bill or a job loss. (See also: 7 Easy Ways to Build an Emergency Fund From $0)

If you work for a company that offers a workplace retirement plan, use your first paycheck to establish how much you'd like to contribute. You should contribute something, even if it's a small amount at first. If you are self-employed, freelancing, or work for a startup that doesn't have a workplace retirement plan option, look into setting up an IRA through your banking institution or other reputable financial management firm. You may need to save up a minimum amount to open an IRA, but you can use a portion of your paycheck as the first step toward saving that amount. (See also: 11 Basic Questions About Retirement Saving Everyone Should Ask)

Set financial goals

After you've gotten your budget in place and saving money is at the top of the list, it's time to set some financial goals. Setting financial goals is important for a variety of reasons. It helps you stick to a realistic budget. It puts something concrete out in front of you and challenges you to go get it. It gives you a purpose for earning, saving, and spending money. Even if you don't reach your goal, you still make progress and move forward. Setting financial goals allows you to view money as a tool that will help you live an independent life.

Financial goal setting is pivotal to becoming and remaining financially independent. You should set immediate, short-term goals (less than six months), some intermediate goals (up to three years), and some long-term goals. Write down legitimate things you want to do with your money and determine the steps you need to take to reach each goal. Make sure your goals fit the SMART frame work (Specific, Measurable, Achieveable, Realistic, and Time-bound) and fit your lifestyle and unique situation. (See also: 5-Minute Finance: Create Financial Goals)

Your first few goals should be to live by your budget, maintain a healthy emergency fund, and kickoff your retirement savings. From there, make other goals that will help keep you on track, such as eliminating debt or paying cash for your next car or vacation.

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