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A Fast-Forwarding Strategy for 2015 College Graduates

06/08/2015 02:36 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2016

As the college graduating class of 2015 make their way into the world, many may find themselves facing strong economic and financial headwinds. Landing your first career position will be a job unto itself. But you'll also find yourself setting the stage for a lifetime of financial management. The decisions that you make now in regard to both career and money will have a profound influence on the rest of your life.

Here are strategies to deal with the most important aspects of your career and finances as a new entrant into the adult world.

Get a Job -- Any Job -- As Soon As Possible

The job market has been improving steadily in recent years, but landing your first job after college is still a challenge. This is particularly true if your major is in a field that's not especially in demand, though competition for jobs is fierce even in some of the technical fields. How you handle your first days after graduation will be critical.

It's important to understand that the longer you go without a job, the more difficult it becomes to find one. Whether justified or not, employers are reluctant to hire those who have been jobless for more the six months -- commonly referred to as the long-term unemployed. Your goal, if you haven't found employment yet, is to avoid falling into that classification.

It may be necessary to accept a job that is either beneath your expectations, or even outside your major field of study (but hopefully not too far). This will be especially important if you didn't work during your college years. Think of it as an interim job, one that you will hold only until you find the one you really want.

An interim job will not only provide you with a source of income, but it can also help you to navigate the often difficult transition from school life to work life. If your work history is thin, as is usually the case for recent graduates, an interim job can also provide you with a much needed job reference. And having a job -- even a less than perfect one -- can help you to avoid the panic that sets in if weeks without a job turn into months.

Be prepared to work harder to land your first job than anything else you've done up to this point. It's often said that when you're unemployed, your "job" is to find a job. Make it a full-time occupation until you hit pay dirt.

Give Serious Consideration to Starting a Business

If you're having trouble finding a job -- and even if you already have one - give some thought to starting your own business. Not all jobs put you on the career fast-track anymore. Having your own business can offer you an opportunity for both personal and professional growth in a way that a job might not. And if you have a substantial amount of debt to payoff, the combination of a full-time job and a side business can help you do it.

Pick a field that you're really good at, and have a passion for. Even if it isn't related to your desired career field, it could still prove to be the area where you excel professionally. And since you're young, you will have plenty of time to grow the business into something more substantial.

Later on, your side business could even turn into your exit strategy from an unfulfilling job or career.

Don't Accept Debt as a Lifestyle

If you've been using debt to pay the bills during your college years, now could be a defining moment in your life. Either you will put an to the debt cycle of the past few years, or you may very well join the millions for whom debt is a lifestyle. That's a merry-go-round that once you're on, proves progressively more difficult to get off of as time goes on. The best strategy is to put an end to it as early in life as possible.

That starts with making the decision not to borrow any more money. This will be especially important if you're already carrying student loan debt, have a car loan and credit card balances. Even if you don't have sufficient income to begin paying down your debts, you should put yourself on your own personal "debt freeze" and not add any more to an already large pile of debt.

It may be that the most you can do in the short run is to tread water. That means making regular monthly payments, and nothing more, until your income and overall financial situation begin to improve. If you can avoid taking on new debt during this time, your existing debts will be slowly be paid down, putting you in a position to make more dramatic debt reductions later.

There's No Better Time than Now to Start Saving Money

Have you noticed that some people always seem to have money, even if they're not in high paying occupations? Have you also noticed that some people never seem to have money, even though some of them hold high-paying jobs? What you do about savings right now may determine which camp you will fall in as your life unfolds.

Saving money is a good financial habit. Unfortunately, not everyone adopts that habit. The reason is that it was never embraced early in life. You can make that choice right now, that you will be a saver. Like debt, it's another financial lifestyle choice.

Start saving money now, even if it's only $10 a week. Put it in a savings account, a money market fund or even a cookie jar. As your finances improve, you will be able to increase your savings level. But you can only do that if you are already in that habit. Starting to save is 51 percent of the battle. It's all about proving to yourself that you can live on at least a little bit less than what you earn. Once you do, your financial future will look bright indeed.

Delayed Gratification Will Be Your Best Friend

After several years of just getting by in college, there can be a serious temptation to start living life. A luxury apartment, a brand-new car, exotic travel, fine dining -- the world calls us to all of them. But as a new grad, your finances probably don't support that kind of lifestyle. Embrace that as your reality, and make it work for you!

If there is a single key to financial success, it's almost certainly delayed gratification. That means that you are willing to sacrifice now for a better future. It's also the funding mechanism that will enable you to payoff your debts and to save and invest money for the future. The denial that you live with now, will pay rich dividends in your future.

Delayed gratification is all about self-discipline. It's about being able to say no to yourself, and also to always be willing to find a less expensive way to do whatever it is you need to do. That actually takes more creativity than most people realize. Once you master the art of finding less expensive alternatives, your horizons begin to open up, and you give yourself more options.

You may be facing limited options at this time in your life, but that doesn't mean that you can't make decisions that will have a positive effect on your future. In a way, the first months and years after college are really the most important in your life, at least from a financial standpoint. You will be making decisions, and adopting lifestyle habits, that will make you or break you going forward. Make wise choices, and commit to them -- your future depends on it.

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