7 Biggest Money Mistakes College Grads Make

Whether it’s taking on too much debt or not enough, this year’s graduates face a financial minefield.

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The solution: If saving any money seems daunting, start by funneling a modest 2 percent of your income into a high-yield savings account or money market fund. Then, slowly raise that percentage. Once you have your three-month emergency fund stored away, consider investing a portion of your longer-term savings in low-fee index funds and other, more aggressive investment vehicles.

5. Failing to negotiate for a higher salary. Even in this economy, employers expect some haggling over salary and benefits. In fact, doing so is a sign of professionalism that shows you, a recent college grad, understand how the working world works. A simple request after expressing enthusiasm and appreciation for the job offer can eventually lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars more in lifetime earnings. (Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon University calculates that not negotiating your first job offer can result in a loss of up to $1.5 million in lifetime earnings.)

The solution: Practice your job-offer conversation before receiving any potential offers so you're ready to land a better deal, and research your field ahead of time so you know what to expect. If the salary really is fixed, consider focusing on other benefits, which can be worth as much as a third of the salary, but that job seekers often overlook. What are the health care benefits? Retirement account perks? Vacation days? Work-at-home flexibility? Decide what's important to you and get ready for some professional haggling; it usually just takes one round of back-and-forth.

[See the best personal finance stories from around the Web at the U.S. News My Money blog.]

6. Thinking you're done studying. Sure, you have your degree, but unless you attended one of the few schools that teach personal finance, you probably know relatively little about how to build wealth. That makes the post-graduation period the ideal time to take matters into your own hands.

The solution: Look for ways to learn more about smart personal-finance strategies. This doesn't have to be boring. Dozens of blogs, websites, and books make learning about money fun, and many local community colleges and universities offer personal-finance courses for local professionals. You might also want to consider forming a money club with friends, in which you meet up once a month to talk about your money questions, goals, and research.

[See Recession Lessons from Gen Y.]

7. Getting buried in paperwork. There's no avoiding the fact that being an adult comes with some secretarial duties. Suddenly, you have pay stubs, health insurance forms, tax documents, and credit card statements to keep organized. It's easy to let them build up until you just want to shred the pile and toss it in the trash.

The solution: Take advantage of modern technology by going paperless whenever possible. Online accounts are easier to manage (and as a bonus, better for the environment). New websites such as shoeboxed.com keep your receipts organized online, which is especially helpful at tax time. Mint.com makes it easy to track your spending and establish a budget.

The bottom line: Add "getting on top of your finances" to the list of things to do after graduation day—and try to make it at least as fun as cleaning out your dorm room.

Twitter: @alphaconsumer