THE BLOG

Preparing for Financial Success in Your First Job

03/21/2015 07:07 pm ET | Updated May 21, 2015

This blog post was written by Intern Queen Alumni Ambassador Alicia Valko, a 2013 graduate of Towson University.

First, let me just start by saying that I am not a financial planner - I'm simply a young professional that has my finances in order thanks to the awesome advice I've received along the way.

I graduated college on May 23, 2013 (just under 2 years ago) with more than $25,000 in student loans. As of May 23, 2015, I will be able to proudly say that I am completely debt free... with savings AND money invested for my retirement! Here's how I did it:

1. Like many of you, I moved back to good 'ole Mom & Dad's.

Was it always awesome to live at home after experiencing the freedom of college? No. But my parents are really wonderful and I honestly can't complain about spending more time with them while saving so much money on rent each month.

It was more important to me to be completely debt-free as quickly as possible than to move into the big city right away... but luckily I accepted a job I'm passionate about and just so happens to be close to home. If you're able to do the same for a year or two, GO FOR IT.

2. I started contributing to my 401k quickly.

As most companies offer 401k matching programs, all of my friends and family strongly encouraged me to start contributing the maximum to my company's 401k program. My employer matches 50% of my contribution (up to 6% of my salary), which is pretty standard.

If you're able to put money towards your 401k, start as soon as possible! Otherwise, you're basically missing out on free money in your retirement.

3. I maximized my retirement savings.

After a year or so of aggressively paying down my loans and contributing to my 401k, I was nagged into starting a Roth IRA. While I'm not the expert, I will share the general rule of thumb I was told while debating between a traditional IRA and Roth IRA:

Traditional IRA contributions are tax-deductible - but you will have to pay taxes as soon as you start to make withdrawals in your retirement. Contributions to your Roth IRAs are taxed when you contribute, but earnings and withdrawals are tax-free in retirement. Roth IRAs also have an income cap, so starting early is advised.

The key here is to start investing in a Roth IRA as early as possible - then invest in a traditional IRA as you begin to earn more. By doing both, you are maximizing your retirement savings and planning for a very solid financial future.

Perhaps most importantly, make sure to treat yourself when you can. It can be overwhelming to save while you're young, but little personal luxuries always help!