Top Budget Tips for New Grads

A mother embraces her daughter on her graduation  day.

Are you a recent graduate? Do you know someone who is? Maybe it’s your daughter, nephew, cousin, friend; whoever it is – we have put together helpful advice for the next stage in their life. Graduation is an important celebration that marks a milestone in your life. It’s a transition from a period of education into a new stage of personal growth. Make the most of this experience by looking towards the future and considering your finances.

No matter what stage of life you are in, there are important elements to keep in mind.

Graduating High School – and Heading to College

Here you are – a high school graduate. You have worked hard for this and your big day has finally come and passed. Now what? If you are like 65.9% of high school graduates in America, you are headed to an institution of higher education. Whether that’s a state college, private university, technical school or other place of education, you have chosen to continue your education. If this is your path, consider this when thinking of your finances:

  • Cost of Attendance

We all hear about how expensive college is, but do you know what elements contribute to the cost of attendance? While tuition may be the bulk of your expenses, additional costs for books, meals and more add up! Here is a breakdown of common costs to budget for and how to potentially lower your out of pocket expense:

      • Tuition – The cost of taking courses varies by school. Seek out scholarship opportunities in your community and through the school.
      • Room and board – Lodging and food costs vary by school. Consider living off-campus your second year to save on living expenses.
      • Books and school supplies – Books and school supplies can be expensive and depend on which course of study you are pursuing. Look into purchasing used books or renting books for the semester.
      • Fees – These vary by school, but can include activity fees and parking fees. Fees are hard to avoid, but look at lowering the cost of these by purchasing a parking pass that is a little further away from campus.
      • Equipment and room materials – This category can include a computer, printer, furniture, microwave, fridge, sheets, towels, etc. Save money by asking your school if they provide printing to you as a student or if they have fridges that you can rent for the year.
      • Travel and miscellaneous expenses – This includes daily commuting to class and travel during holiday breaks. This also can include clothing, mobile and other general living costs. If you travel home over break, one way to save is to see if there are other students who would be willing to carpool with you.

Graduating High School – and Joining the Workforce

You’ve done it – graduated high school. Feeling both relieved and eager, you are ready to prove yourself in the workplace. You are not alone – about 34% of high school graduates in America decide to join the workforce or pursue other non-educational opportunities after completing high school. Don’t let your hard earned money go to waste, keep this financial tip in mind:

  • Emergency Savings

In case of an emergency, or another instance in which you may not be receiving your usual paycheck, it is recommended to keep an emergency savings fund. The general guideline is to have three months’ pay so that you can cover your living expenses until you are back on your feet. To calculate your monthly expenses, use this list of common items:

      • Mortgage/Rent Payment
      • Loans: Car, Student, Credit Card
      • Insurance: Auto, Health, Life, Home/Renter’s
      • Utilities: Gas, Electric, Water, Garbage
      • Food
      • Gas
      • Child Care
      • Cell Phone
      • Cable/Satellite TV
      • Internet Provider
      • Wellness Membership

Graduating College – as a Young Adult

First high school, now college. Congratulations! You have joined the ranks of the over 30% of Americans who hold college degrees. Now it’s time to put that degree to work and begin your career. Before you hit the ground running, take a couple minutes to think through your finances:

  • Student Loan Debt

After you graduate from school, it is important to take a look at the amount of student loan debt you have acquired. It can be overwhelming if your loans are with different lenders, who will all be contacting you to get your payments started. Looking at the amount as a whole can be a daunting task as well. Coming to terms with the thought of paying off your student loan debt doesn’t need to be a painful experience. There is no need to fear, as you have plenty of options. First, see if your lenders offer income-based payments. These are designed to reduce monthly payments based on your annual income. Another option is to consolidate your student loans. Through consolidating, you have one automatic payment amortized over a longer period that usually has a lower interest rate. For more information on repaying your student loan debt, visit the Federal Student Aid website. Keep in mind that once you get going in your career, hitting student loan debit hard will become easier.

  • If you are a North Dakota resident: The Bank of North Dakota recently announced a new loan consolidation program open to residents of North Dakota, entitled ‘DEAL One Loan’. To find out more, visit BND’s website. They offer options for non-North Dakota residents as well.

Graduating College – Later in Life

It takes dedication to return to college and graduate – your passion is what has taken you this far. With work experience under your belt, and now a college degree, the world is yours to take. Keep your traction going, with this financial plan:

  • Retirement Plan

On average, college graduates make about $17,500 more annually than those with high school diplomas only. By leveraging your new-found degree to increase your earnings, you can then begin investing towards your retirement.

To get an idea of how much you need to be investing, first estimate roughly how much money you’ll need to live on in retirement. Once you have this, calculate what will be available to you from other sources, other than your savings. This can include Social Security, pensions and 401(k) earnings. This will give you a realistic idea of what you still have left to save. After this, make goals to reach the amount you’ll need to make up the difference.

If you choose to invest in an IRA, contribute the maximum amount. For contribution limits, visit the IRS website here.

If you choose to invest in employer-sponsored plans, such as a 401(k), contribute the maximum amount to your 401(k). For contribution limits, visit the IRS website here.

Time to Shine

We know that these aren’t the only options after graduation; maybe you are joining the army, traveling with the peace corps or going to graduate school. Whatever path you choose to take or wherever life leads you – remember to consider your finances.

First International Bank & Trust, Member FDIC, EHL

Our money saving expert (and mom of four) shares how to get your kids saving

By: Julie Standlee, Deposit Operations Officer, Assistant Vice President, Arizona, First International Bank & Trust

It’s a question we hear so often in all our locations: How to get kids saving money now? As a deposits officer and a parent, here are some guidelines that have helped our customers—and our own family of four kids, two boys and two girls, ages 2 – 10, including one who would prefer to spend every nickel, and one who would proudly save every penny.

Start early
Growing up, my mom was a bank teller, and she took care of the billing for my dad’s business. He’d started a small business after he served in the military. From a very young age, my mom took my sister and me along for weekly trips to the bank. My parents also helped us set up our own savings accounts.

We encourage parents to bring their kids in to the bank. Meet with a banker to open their accounts. Teach them how to fill out deposit slips. (You would be amazed at the young adults we see who have no idea how to do this!)

Standlee Kids

Julie and her husband have four kids, who they are helping learn to save money.

Get in the Kid’s Club
Open a savings account for each of your children, such as what we call a Kid’s Club Account. It has no minimum balance, no fees and the individual can keep it open until they reach age 24. That’s a great time for us to meet with young adults, too, since they’ve likely started a career and all that includes—and they are getting lots of credit card applications in the mail. We like to guide them through this new level of financial responsibilities and opportunities.

Rewards now—and later
Teach kids to save by saving. I know that sounds simple, but it also is simple. For example, when our kids get money (birthday gifts, allowance, money for chores), they deposit 75 percent into their savings accounts; they keep 25 percent.

Cash in
Kids are literal. We encourage parents to bring checks and other money in to the bank. Fill out a deposit slip, have the teller cash out the entire amount and have the kids count out the actual bills to deposit some and pocket some. This gets them accustomed to interacting with bankers—and real cash. We don’t use ATMs or online systems; once they know the basic principles, they will understand what is happening via technology as they use those tools to manage their finances later in life.

Growing up green
As kids’ financial needs change, keep them involved in the decisions. We don’t recommend debit cards until age 16. If kids do need a larger amount of money, such as for a school trip, we recommend gift cards like our Visa gift cards. They are re-loadable, and safer than carrying cash or good old traveler’s checks.

Beyond savings
Besides these guidelines, we encourage parents to involve kids in other family financial matters, as age appropriate. For instance, when they need to do a fundraiser for school, sports or activities, have them help keep track of the details. Show them the costs involved in participating in sports and activities so they understand the value of money.

Above all, teach kids to enjoy the rewards of money now—and the rewards of saving. Enjoy the moment, yet plan and look ahead, too. That seems like a good parenting principle for other issues, as well!

All our bankers are well-versed in Kid’s Club Accounts and other options for youngsters—and we love seeing your kids in the bank. Bring them in for a visit, a treat and a lesson on filling out a deposit slip!.

Julie StandleeJulie grew up in Burbank, Calif., and started her career at Warner Brothers there. Julie relocated to Arizona 15 years ago, and after time at a few other companies, she wanted to get back to working for a community bank and joined First International Bank & Trust, where she has now been for more than six years. Julie and her husband, who also works in financial services, cheer on their four kids in various sports and activities, while teaching them how to save money.

How to start and build college savings plans

By: Kristi Krebs, Deposit Operations Manager/Officer, Fargo branches
First International Bank & Trust, Member FDIC

Whether you’re bringing your newborn home from the hospital or sending your teenager to high school, it’s never too late to start and build college savings plans for your kids. Very few young people will receive full college scholarships (even those who do have additional school-related expenses), so help your star athletes and arts protégés, but also be realistic and start college savings plans.

Saving for college is like parenting. It can seem overwhelming, yet three guiding principles and reliable plans can help.

Consistency and Discipline

When you start a college savings plan, keep contributing funds, even a little at a time. Just as consistent rules help in raising kids, steady additions to any bank account can really add up to success. Even as the expenses of your family increase, use discipline to keep the college savings plans growing.


Most college savings plans don’t offer high interest rates, but they also don’t offer high risks. Start contributing early, and your patience will be rewarded as you see the balance grow, slowly but surely.


Have a plan, but be open to new options. This serves parents well every step of the way, and it’s a good guide for college savings plans, too. One of our bankers would be happy to help you look for the best options to start, continue and expand accounts that will help your future college students. Meanwhile, here are a few tips:

When to start

Again, as with other parenting principles, start early! A child with a social security number can have a savings account.

How to start

Our most popular college savings plans account is our Higher Learning Fund, which is basically a certificate of deposit (CD) designed especially for the student(s) in your family. It is an excellent way to save for college or other higher learning expenses.

You can start a higher learning fund account at any time, and can contribute any amount at any time. Many people use direct deposit and some even mention it to grandparents, godparents and others who are looking to help a youngster with his or her college expenses. A deposit from grandma on each birthday will really add up.

This account matures in July after the young person turns age 18. That’s typically right after he or she graduates from high school, so it’s ideal timing to use the funds—in whole or in part—for higher learning expenses. Since this account runs under the child’s social security number, there can also be some tax advantages – although you should always discuss your tax planning with a tax professional.

How else to start

Our Trust and Wealth Management experts can also help you start, grow and manage accounts such as an Educational ROTH or IRA to save and invest for your kids’ higher learning.


Good tools

At any stage, detailed information and a student loan calculator can give you personalized direction on college savings plans, based on how much time you have to save, what you can contribute, and what type of higher learning you anticipate for your future students.

We recommend this Bank of North Dakota college planning center and student loan calculator.

Kristi KrebsKristi grew up in the Fargo area and earned her degrees in business administration and marketing from Minnesota State University Moorhead.  She and her husband, a native of New England, N.D., are building a home in West Fargo, so they plan to be active members of the community for some time to come.