You Just Got a Job. Now What?

Negotiating a salary, choosing insurance, navigating 401(k)s — here's the smartest advice

LifeZette has teamed up with the financial pros at Dave Ramsey to answer the most pressing financial questions — including those from young professionals as they enter the job market for the first time.

How do you negotiate a salary for the first time? That’s not something most colleges teach students today — and in many cases, neither are parents teaching this. But it’s a vital life skill to have and to refine.

LifeZette reached out to financial expert Rachel Cruze about the ins and outs of that first salary, plus navigating monthly bills, obtaining life insurance, and eliminating college debt just as those first “real job” paychecks start coming in.

Along with her dad, Dave Ramsey, Cruze is co-author of the No. 1 New York Times best-selling book, “Smart Money, Smart Kids.”

Question: When obtaining that first full-time job in the marketplace, what is the best way to negotiate a salary?

Answer: It is important that you go in knowing what the job market says you’re worth. That will help determine your starting point.

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Bear in mind — it may not be what you imagined! Expectations may have to be lowered. Many college graduates come out thinking, “Well, I’m going to make $75,000 because that’s what someone in my profession makes.” But there are other factors — the economy, how the company is doing — that affect what they can offer you. If you don’t like the offer, take the skills you know you have, apply that to what the market says the job pays, and present that to the employer as a counter.

If the company’s offer is significantly less than what you know you are worth, you may not want to take that particular job. A little patience is helpful. Over the years you will hone your skills, become better at your job, and be worth more. The company is making an investment in you and they want a return on that. You hope they are making more off your work than what they are paying you, and you can say, “I am justifying a lot of revenue coming in to the company, and I should be paid for that.”

When asking for a raise, be confident. Show hard numbers and facts — and ask plainly for what you want.

Question: How important is a household budget when you get that first big job?

Answer: I can’t emphasize enough how important a budget is. You need to make a plan, which begins by looking at your overall financial landscape. What do you pay for rent, insurance, groceries — when you start listing items, you’ll get a better grasp of what you can afford. Maybe you can even afford a nicer apartment than you thought, once you know what your budget is. Whatever works for you, whether it’s a budgeting app or a sheet of paper, make sure to get all those expenses down in front of you.

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Question: Should every expense go into that one budget, or are bigger loans separate?

Answer: Student loans and debt would go into right into that main budget, as would credit card debt per month, insurance fees, and car loan debt. Seeing your budget visually is so important, because money can be very overwhelming. I remember when I was younger, waking up in the middle of the night going over my bills in my head — so a budget takes away a lot of that stress. Knowing what money is coming in and going out is empowering.

Question: Is life insurance important for everyone, even single people?

Answer: Life insurance is very important if someone else is dependent on your income. Term life insurance is a very inexpensive option. If no one else is dependent on you, then life insurance isn’t mandatory. But make sure you have an emergency fund so that things like burial costs are covered. Don’t let this fall on your family. What we like to say is that life insurance is a way to say “I love you” to your family.

Question: If my employer offers a 401(k), should I enroll?

Answer: If your employer offers a 401(k), then take it, but not until you are debt-free. That means college loans and outstanding debt are all paid off prior to enrolling. The reasoning: If your 401(k) is fully funded but you’re still living paycheck to paycheck, that’s not good. There is sometimes a waiting period before you can enroll, so focus on paying down that debt during the waiting period. All that being said, a 401(k) is an incredible retirement vehicle.

Question: Is health insurance optional for anyone?

Answer: Everyone needs health insurance. The number-one cause of bankruptcy in America is medical bills. If your employer does not offer insurance, there are many third-party companies that do offer it, and there is also the government insurance option. Don’t wait until you are in the emergency room to sign up — never make a financial decision in the middle of a crisis.

The younger you are, the more a sense of invincibility you have  — sort of a “nothing bad will ever happen to me” mentality. Protect yourself, and again — protect your family by having health insurance.

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