6 Financial Skills to Master Before You Graduate


With graduation only months away, you can finally see light at the end of the tunnel. After four (or more) long years of study, you're well-prepared to embrace adulthood, independence, and professional success.

But are you really? Before you don that cap and gown, make sure you know the ABCs of personal money management. It could be the most important course you'll ever take. Here are the financial skills to master before you graduate.

1. Basic budgeting

If you can't build and stick to a basic budget, you risk having your life divided into a series of stressful 30-day cycles. Bills may be late, savings an afterthought, and credit cards could become an absolute necessity. Avoid this bleak fate. Set up a practice budget using the envelope system or get acquainted with online money management tools like Mint. (See also: Build Your First Budget in 5 Easy Steps)

2. Living within your means

Consistently spending more than you make is the cornerstone of bad financial decision-making. You'll have no surplus money to invest. You'll rack up credit card debt (harming your credit scores in the process). And, you'll live in a constant state of stress. Create a realistic budget, stick to it, and don't pad your lifestyle with easy credit. (See also: How to Escape the Paycheck-to-Paycheck Cycle)

3. Paying your bills on time

Credit scores affect everything from interest and insurance rates to employment. And once your score is damaged, it can take years for it to recover. Protect your credit scores, avoid late fees and penalties, and keep the bill collectors away by paying your bills on time, every time. It's a fundamental part of being an adult. (See also: Here's What to Do if You Can't Pay Your Bills On Time)

4. Using credit responsibly

Ready for my best Dad impression? "Credit is a tool, not a toy." But Dad is right. Using credit responsibly means controlling impulses, only charging what you can pay off at the end of every month, and not confusing your credit limit with your budget. Seriously — credit abuse destroys the financial lives of countless families every year. Choose to be different. (See also: 12 Habits of Highly Responsible Credit Card Users)

5. Negotiating

The unsung hero of personal finance, negotiating is a skill that can save you thousands of dollars over your lifetime. Imagine paying full price for every car and every house you buy. Or worse, imagine not knowing how to respectfully push back on the first salary offer a potential employer makes. Launch into adulthood from a position of power; know how to negotiate with confidence.

6. Setting goals and saving for the future

Financial skills are a means to an end. Determine what kind of relationship you want to have with money, exactly what you want to achieve financially, and what level of discipline and attention it will take to turn your goals into your reality. Save with that plan in mind — and save without interruption. In short, apply the same level of dogged determination to your financial life as you applied to your education. The rewards will be just as great. (See also: 5 Money Moves to Make the Moment You Graduate)

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