The 5-Step College Grad Checklist That Will Keep You Productive & Sane

If you’re graduating from college this May, chances are your life is currently spiraling out of control. Yesterday, my boyfriend watched me cry for a solid 20 minutes during brunch because I’m stressed about a project. No amount of Bloody Marys can make me feel better right now, and that is something we both need to accept.

But naturally, the thing I do to keep myself feeling happy, productive, and overall sane is planning. I’ve always been a diligent planner and list-maker, and right now, although it is tempting to give in to the chaos and let life, assignments, project deadlines, and résumés swirl around me without putting them in their proper places, I know I need to keep planning and organizing to keep everything in order. For that reason, I’ve written my own definitive post-grad checklist to keep me sane now, and make sure I (sort of ) have my life in order when I walk the big walk in May.

1. Tie up all loose academic ends.

Some people get to “graduate” (i.e. walk at graduation), but actually have a few outstanding credits to finish the following summer. Maybe you became ill during the semester and missed a few assignments, and passed the class with an “Incomplete”, meaning your graduation is contingent on you making up the work this summer. Maybe you totally messed up, didn’t analyze your degree evaluation properly, and actually have a graduation requirement that you didn’t meet (my literal worst nightmare). Whatever the case may be, there are a lot of loose ends to tie up when you’re graduating, and you should make sure everything is neatly buttoned up this month so May can be a somewhat enjoyable time for you (minus finals week – graduating or not, finals week will probably be hell).

2. Cherish your grace period, but prepare for its end.

Post-grad, before student loans go into repayment, there is some sort of grace period for the student to get on their feet before they have to start paying back the loan. Although I paid off chunks of my loan the second I stopped going to school when I took my year off, I think the grace period is absolutely something to be taken advantage of, especially if you truly need it. We might not be graduating with jobs right away, and this is a good time to get on your financial feet, and figure out how to budget your new grown-up life in a way that allows for easy loan payments each month. It is also a time where you don’t have to worry about making that payment yet, so you can enjoy a few things in life that you may not be able to in a few months when you have a hefty bill each month. Take advantage of it a little, and enjoy the fact that you don’t have to jump right in to the payments. However, be aware of the date you’ll need to start paying them back, and prepare for it. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll take some of the money that doesn’t need to go towards loans yet, and put it into a little savings fund dedicated to your loan repayment. That way, when it sneaks up on you in a few months, you’ll have an arsenal of saved income ready to shoot off at your payments.

3. Don’t become a big spender.

It is tempting to spend money when you suddenly have it, especially if you’re used to not having it. Often, when grads sign their very first contract and see the number that is their very first grown-up salary, it is the biggest amount of money they’ve ever seen before, and their eyes turn into little dollar signs. Just think of all the stuff one can buy with $30,000! It is a pretty exciting number to see if you’re used to working for $8.25 and hour for 17 hours a week. But the worst thing to do with your new grown up salary is to spend it. Pay your bills, and by all means, live a good life complete with fun and entertainment – but don’t start spending like a Rockefeller just because you think you can. You probably can’t, and you should prioritize paying off loans and saving before anything else.

4. Live below your means.

For a while. New money doesn’t necessarily mean you need a new lifestyle. Spending the first bit of your successful adult life living like a college student, being frugal, and clipping coupons will save you a lot in the long run. When it is just you, and you don’t have a spouse or a family that you need to take care of, it is a lot easier to live below your means and put that extra money away to save for the bigger, better things you might want (or need) someday in the future. If you live with your parents, maybe stay with them for a while so you can build a solid emergency fund and start saving for a comfortable move into a place of your own. Don’t feel like having a salary means you need to get flashy and buy all the stuff you couldn’t when you were a struggling undergrad with part-time mall money. Remember that you have a lifetime ahead of you to live ~large~, and having the money to live a little larger right now doesn’t necessarily mean you need to if you’re comfortable living on less and focusing on saving for future goals.

5. Work hard as heck, but try to enjoy it.

Between legitimate tearful breakdowns this weekend as I worked to complete big assignments due at the end of the semester, Drew had to remind me that I’m doing a good job and it is almost over. The end of your final semester of college is by no means the time to slack off – in fact, developing a nasty case of Senoritis is a one-way ticket to royally screwing up, if you ask me. This month is for working harder than you ever have to get all the final projects, exams, and assignments finished up and done to the best of your ability. Only when you know you’ve done your best work will you be able to relax, and feel proud of what you’ve done, and celebrate your accomplishments. You did it!

Mary writes every day for TFD, and tweets every day for her own personal fulfillment. Talk to her about money and life at mary@thefinancialdiet.com!

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  • Caroline H.

    The four months directly after I graduated from undergrad were, so far, the hardest four months of my life! After being so immersed in school for my whole life, always knowing what the next step is, and not having to deal with actual responsibilities, I felt like I was all of a sudden thrust into the ocean miles away from land with no lifejacket. It was stressful, and confusing, and very hard! After landing my first full-time job (that I loved), I started to feel calm and content, and like an actual adult. For any post-grads reading this, if you’re stressed, I promise it WILL get better and that you are NOT alone!