How to keep a firm grip on your finances in your first job

Starting out in the world of work is an exciting time, if you’re lucky you’ll get to put into practice some of the skills and knowledge you’ve gained in college and during work placement and begin building a base for your chosen career. Unfortunately we don’t all get to embark on our careers within ideal roles or bring in paychecks as large as we’d like straight away. After years of studying hard and being careful with every last nickel while at school, it can be hard to face the realisation that stepping into the realm of full time work may not provide immediate financial relief, but you should ignore that reality at your peril.

As a writer based in the UK I was very unfortunate to graduate from my masters course just as the recession hit – causing what is already a competitive jobs market to become even harder to break, especially without moving to the capital. I was forced to take a job in the media sphere that was writing related, but with a far lower salary than my qualifications and years of work placements may otherwise have warranted. However, one thing that hadn’t changed was the requirement for me to pay back the loan I took out to fund my masters course. The repayments started almost immediately after my new career began, and it’s from this background that I’ve learnt my lessons of keeping a firm financial grip.

In the US, after the funfair of graduation you head quickly toward the time you have to start making loan repayments. Though it is possible to defer payment if you encounter genuine hurdles such as unemployment or a death in the family, it really is a case of the sooner you start servicing the debt the better, because interest will accrue.

Now, on to the nitty gritty. If like me your first step on to your chosen career path is not quite what you’d planned, don’t bemoan your circumstances or lack of opportunity or you’ll find you remain static and prolong any financial struggle. The job I took after graduation from my masters degree was by no means my first job, but it was the one I’d built up in my mind as something I’d been working hard for. I was in the position in question (a sub-editing role) for around nine months and my paycheck at the time only just covered my rent and travel. This meant putting in extra hours elsewhere – freelancing, taking a weekend job in a clothes store and making sensible financial choices. If you have to do the same, or be the only one in the office to bring your lunch in from home – so be it. Why after coming so far would you quit at the last hurdle?

If you are offered help by family, take it. I took a job away from home and had thoughtful grandparents who sent food parcels and store vouchers in the post, though I also welcomed a pre-paid credit card, which introduced me to using cards in a sensible way. Working in the media means networking is important, so it’s not always sensible to turn down all offers of after work drinks or socialising, but you don’t want to land yourself with masses of debt by doing so. If you have to diversify to up your income, don’t be afraid – learning new skills and showing willingness are things that will attract employers to you and every interviewer I’ve had since this tricky time has been impressed by my handling of multiple jobs and continued placements in my early career. Whatever you do, be sure to keep one foot firmly on your chosen path, so, when the time comes you are ready and waiting to take that rewarding jump to surface.