Graduating from college and striking out on your own can be a financial wake-up call—one that's as jarring as a bucket of ice-cold water.
Sure, the job market is a little rosier for this year's grads. Employers expect to hire 8.6 percent more 2014 grads than they did from the Class of 2013, according to the National Association of College and Employers. But the April unemployment rate for people ages 20 to 24 is still high at 10.6 percent.
Add in average student loan debt of $29,400 (or more—that figure, the latest available, was Project on Student Debt's estimate for 2012 grads) and $3,000 in credit card debt, and the outlook is a little rougher. Not panicking yet? A new Pew Research Center report found that households with student loan debt have less money and more debt overall. Other studies have found they're more likely to put off home-ownership.
All the more reason to be smart about your money from the get-go, financial advisors say.
"Right after college, you're creating financial habits that will follow you for a lifetime," said certified financial planner Janet A. Stanzak, president of the Financial Planning Association. "You have to be intentional about how you use your money." (Watch the video above for three tips to get started.)
Though it can seem overwhelming, don't focus solely on student loan debt. "A lot of people ask, 'should I be paying off my debt and then start to invest?'" said Stanzak, whose son and daughter will be graduating from college this spring. "It's really important to keep a balance and do both." Time is on young adults' side to build those savings into a retirement nest egg.
Saving as you pay down the debt can also make your financial situation less precarious. Most planners recommend having at least three months' worth of living expenses in a savings account. "Establish an emergency fund so if something goes wrong, you aren't begging, borrowing or stealing," said Mark Prendergast, a certified financial planner based in Huntington Beach, Calif.