Life has expensive lessons for new college grads

Posted: Thursday, June 07, 2001

NEW YORK (AP) -- After Kari Molvar graduated from Brown University a year ago, one of the first things she learned about life after school was that it carries a big price tag.

''I had to find an apartment in Boston,'' Molvar remembers. ''I was shocked. They wanted the first month's rent, the last month's rent and I had to pay a broker's fee. I was looking at $4,000 before I opened the door. That's a huge amount of money.''

She was able to borrow from her parents, with a promise to pay the money back. But Molvar, 23, who works as a research associate at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., says ''I know from other friends that getting an apartment seriously depleted their funds.''

As this year's crop of graduates enters the real world, like Molvar they're likely to learn quickly that a course they didn't get -- and probably could have used -- was Financial Planning 101.

''Kids take calculus. They take business planning. But when it comes to learning about the nitty-gritty of life, they haven't gotten much,'' says Mike Kidwell, a co-founder of, a financial counseling service based in Rockville, Md.

He has three tips:

-- Start paying off those student loans as soon as possible.

-- Don't take on too much new debt right away.

-- Track spending, even for a month, so you're prepared to make necessary financial decisions.

''Too often, kids come out of school and want everything all at once,'' Kidwell said. The disadvantage is that the debt needed for that kind of lifestyle can limit the new graduate's options, he said.

''What happens if you don't like the job, don't like the city you're in, and want to change?'' Kidwell asked. ''If you're strapped, you won't have the flexibility to move.''

Nor the ability to save.

Mari Adam, a financial planner in Boca Raton, Fla., suggests new graduates sign up for 401(k) and similar tax-advantaged retirement savings plans as soon as their employers allow. She also suggests a bank or brokerage account -- for emergencies like car repairs, to tide you over if you lose your job, to take a trip, to have the seed money to start your own business.

''In fact, Generation Xers are good clients,'' Adam said. ''If you give them a plan and a disciplined approach, they'll do it. They're realistic, not like Baby Boomers who don't save and don't think about it.''

Kidwell, too, is a fan of getting retirement savings accounts set up early: ''Put aside at least 2 percent, anything, to qualify for the (corporate) matching money. If we said this was free beer, everybody would be lining up. This is free money from the employers.''

Another thing new graduates need to worry about is insurance, the Financial Planning Association suggests. Many employers will offer health and disability coverage, but the individual will be responsible for finding and financing renter's and auto insurance.

Still, it's tough for new graduates to grapple with all the decisions they must make without having all the information they need to make them.

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