When you graduate from college, you may be feeling a great sense of accomplishment, along with excitement about the future. As a nice bonus, family and friends may give you monetary gifts to help you celebrate your achievement and start your new life.
Whether you receive a small or large amount of cash for your graduation, you may be wondering–should you spend it? Save it? Invest it? Use it to pay off debt? Depending on the amount you receive, you could possibly make a big financial leap forward by paying off credit cards or saving for your future home or business.
While the best way to use your graduation money will depend on your goals and current financial situation, here are some ideas you may want to consider.
1. Jump-Starting an Emergency Fund
Establishing an emergency fund can be a great first step toward financial stability. Having this cushion can help you to handle a financial setback, such as a costly car repair, trip to the ER, or loss of income, without having to rely on high interest credit cards.
A good target is to have enough money set aside to cover three to six months of living expenses. It’s fine to start small, however, and build this fund up over time.
2. Paying Off Credit Card Debt
It’s not uncommon to accumulate credit card debt in college. Laptops and textbooks can be costly, and it can be hard to have time to work a significant number of hours. The sooner you pay off any balances you are carrying, however, the less you’ll pay in the long run–and the easier it will be to handle new expenses, like rent and car payments.
3. Buying Interview Clothes
Whether you graduated from college early or just completed grad school, you may be job hunting. While the knowledge, skills and attitude you can bring to a company may be what’s most important, how you dress for the interview can also form a lasting impression on potential employers. Depending on your industry, that might mean a suit for men and a suit or dress for women.
Ready for a Better Banking Experience?
Open a SoFi Checking and Savings Account and start earning 1% APY on your cash!
4. Reducing Your Student Loan Debt
If you took out a college or graduate student loan, you may want to use some of your graduation money to start paying down your loan balance. The more you can knock down your loans, the less interest you’ll owe–and the less you’ll pay overall.
If you make an extra payment, however, it can be a good idea to make sure that your loan officer applies the extra amount to the balance, rather than next month’s payment.
5. Saving up for an Apartment
If you’ll be moving into your own place after graduation, you’ll likely need to come up with your first and last month’s rent, plus a security deposit, in one fell swoop. You may also want to save up for furniture and household items, like dishes, cookware and linens, to set up your new place.
6. Investing in Mutual Funds
While investing can sound intimidating, one easy way to get started is to invest in a mutual fund. While these funds typically charge an annual fee and involve risk, they are managed by professional investors who spread your money over a mix of securities, such as stocks and bonds. You can choose a mutual fund based on its past performance, how aggressive (or stock-heavy) it is, and the type of fees they charge.
7. Opening a High-Interest Savings Account
Traditional savings accounts typically offer very low interest. If you are saving your graduation money for a short-term goal, like buying a car or building an emergency fund, you may want to put it in an account that offers higher interest than a traditional savings account, but is still safe and allows easy access to your money. Some good options include: a high-yield savings account, money market account, online savings account, or checking and savings account.
8. Getting a Start on Retirement Saving
It’s never too early to start saving for retirement. Thanks to compounding interest (which is when the interest you earn on your money also earns interest), the earlier you start putting money aside for retirement, the easier it will be to meet your goal. If your employer offers a matching program for your 401(k), you may want to consider taking full advantage of it and contributing at least up to their match.
9. Going on a Trip
Before you jump into the working world, you may want to take some time off and explore some new destinations. Travelling is not only fun, it can also be a way to learn more about the world, gain insights into different cultures, and potentially even make some new connections.
The experience of traveling may also energize you and help you gain clarity about what you want your future to look like.
10. Saving up for Grad School
If you’re planning to pursue a higher degree, you may want to use your graduation money to jump start your grad school fund. In general, it can be better to pay for your education out of pocket rather than taking out student loans which, thanks to interest, make the cost of higher education even higher.
11. Putting Money Into Real Estate
You may not have enough money to purchase a home yet, but you could try investing money into a REIT (real estate investment trust). Modeled after mutual funds, REITs offer a lower-cost way to invest in the real estate market–you can invest in a fund with as little as $500.
These trusts are also liquid, which means you can sell at any time. Like stocks, you can buy and sell REIT shares on an exchange. As with any investment, investing in a REIT involves some risk.
12. Buying a Car
If you’ll be needing a car to get around, it can be a good idea to start saving for a downpayment or, even better, paying for the car in cash. Whether you buy a used or new vehicle, the more cash you can put down initially, the less you’ll have to finance–and the less you’ll end up paying for that car.
13. Joining AAA
Whether you already have a car or you’re planning to buy one, you may want to use a bit of your graduation money to join AAA . Having a AAA membership can provide peace of mind when you’re out on the road, and can end up paying for itself should you get a flat tire or two, or need a tow in the wee hours of the morning. AAA membership also gets you discounts on many hotels, rental cars, and other products and services.
14. Starting a Business
If you are planning to launch your own business straight out of college, you may want to funnel your graduation money right into your new venture. If you need additional cash for your start-up, you might also consider taking out a small business loan or crowdfunding your idea on a site like GoFundMe and Kickstarter.
15. Joining a Wholesale Club
As you transition from dining hall or parent-supported dining, you may want to look into joining a wholesale club like Costco, BJ’s, or Sam’s Club. These member-only stores can save you a lot of money when you buy in bulk, and could especially come in handy if you’re splitting costs with your roommates.
16. Donating to Charity
Donating some money to charity can be a solid option when you’re deciding what to do with graduation money. If you have a particular cause you’re passionate about, you can look for relevant charities on Charity Navigator .
If the charity you donate to is a tax exempt 501(c)(3) organization, you may be able to write the donation off on your taxes.
17. Taking Your Parents to Dinner
If your parents helped pay for your college education, you might want to show your gratitude by taking them out to dinner. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy–the idea is to let them know that you truly appreciate their love and support. This could apply to a grandparent, family member, or a friend who funded your education as well.
18. Saving for a Home
While owning a home might not be in your immediate future, you may want to use your graduation money to start saving up for a down payment.
To get a sense of how much you might need, you can start looking at real estate prices in the area where you would like to live. Ideally, you would want to put 20 percent of the purchase price down.
19. Saving for Your Wedding
Weddings can run well over $10,000. Of course, there are ways to have a cheaper wedding, such as keeping it small or having it in your backyard, but wedding costs can still add up quickly. If you’re engaged or planning to be soon, you might want to use some of your graduation money to start a wedding fund.
20. Paying for Additional Classes or Certifications
Even though you graduated with a degree, you may find that you need some additional training to stand out in your field.
To be more competitive when it comes to the job market, you might want to use your graduation money to pay for additional classes or certifications. This could possibly lead to an increase in your salary as well.
21. Paying for Personal Care
When you go in for job interviews, you’ll want to look your best. Along with buying professional clothes for your interviews, you may also want to invest in other aspects of your personal appearance, such as getting your hair cut or styled, getting your nails done, or having your teeth whitened. Putting your best foot forward can help you feel more confident.
22. Moving to an Area with a Stronger Job Market
If your home town doesn’t have the best job market for your field, you may want to consider moving somewhere that offers more opportunities. You could put your graduation money towards moving expenses, sucy as renting a truck or professional movers.
23. Hiring a Career Coach
If you’re having trouble finding the job you want, you might consider using your graduation money to hire a professional career coach. These pros can help you revise your resume, improve your LinkedIn profile, build your network, and help you plan out your career. Typically, the best career coaches will have extensive experience in human resources and/or recruiting.
24. Getting Health Insurance
If you graduated from college later than your peers or you’re finishing up grad school, then you may no longer be on your parents’ health Insurance. You may want to start by looking for a health insurance policy on the government marketplace. As you compare policies, it can be a good idea to keep your medical needs, such as prescriptions and specialty doctors’ visits, in mind.
25. Paying Back Anyone You Owe
If you borrowed any money from family or friends during college, you may want to use graduation money to settle up. This shows that you are responsible and true to your word. If you end up in a bind again in the future and need to borrow, your family and friends will know that you can be trusted to pay them back.
If you’re not sure whether to spend or save your graduation money, it can be helpful to look at both your short-term needs, such as paying off credit cards and buying a car. as well as your long-term goals, like creating a comfortable retirement nest egg.
The answer to how to use graduation money is different for everyone, but it can be a good idea to weigh all of the options before you make any major spending decisions.
Whether you’re saving for something specific or storing cash until you’re ready to invest, SoFi Checking and Savings® can help you put your graduation money to good use.
SoFi Checking and Savings is a checking and savings account that allows you to earn competitive interest, spend, and save all in one place.
SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2022 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
SoFi Money® is a cash management account, which is a brokerage product, offered by SoFi Securities LLC, member
FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Securities LLC is an affiliate of SoFi Bank, N.A. SoFi Money Debit Card issued by The Bancorp Bank.
SoFi has partnered with Allpoint to provide consumers with ATM access at any of the 55,000+ ATMs within the Allpoint network. Consumers will not be charged a fee when using an in-network ATM, however, third party fees incurred when using out-of-network ATMs are not subject to reimbursement. SoFi’s ATM policies are subject to change at our discretion at any time.
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).
2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal. Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
SoFi members with direct deposit can earn up to 1.25% annual percentage yield (APY) interest on all account balances in their Checking and Savings accounts (including Vaults). Members without direct deposit will earn 0.70% APY on all account balances in their Checking and Savings accounts (including Vaults). Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. Rate of 1.25% APY is current as of 4/5/2022. Additional information can be found at http://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet