You’ve just graduated; maybe from high school or college. Congratulations! That’s a huge achievement! Take a minute and feel good about what you’ve accomplished.

Ok. Feel good? Great. Because the rest of your life is now ahead of you, and it’s important that you start planning for it. You are very likely about to experience more freedom and independence than you ever have before, and that can be thrilling and terrifying in equal measures. But preparedness can help with that! So let’s take a look at some ways to get ready to start the rest of your life.

And just to get this out the way now, the first step is making a budget. That’s a given. Start there, maybe with an app like Mint, and then read the rest of this article.

Understand Banking!

If you’re lucky, your school offered some sort of personal finance class; a course to teach the ins and outs of money and banks and credit, what those mean, and why they’re important. If you weren’t so lucky, or you just didn’t pay attention the first time around, now is the time to get a firm grasp on how personal banking works, and why banks are important to managing your future well. In fact, you can drop by any Affiliated Bank branch today and talk to a personal banker about your options going into the next stage of life.

Start an Emergency Fund

Regular blog readers know the importance of an emergency fund. Remember, a good emergency fund has enough money to cover expenses for 3-6 months. This is important because life after graduation can be uncertain in many ways, and financial security can take a load off your shoulders at a time of decision-making.

3-6 months can sound like a daunting amount to save, but the only way to reach it is to start setting aside money now!

Two Necessary Evils – Student Loans and Credit Cards

Credit cards are tricky, as we’ve discussed before, but building credit is hugely important right out of school for things like finding a job, as some companies will run a credit check on prospects as a judge of their reliability, renting an apartment, or getting a loan. A credit card is the easiest way to do this, as long as it is used wisely and sparingly. For more info on credit cards, check out our previous blog on the Pros and Cons of Credit Cards.

Similarly, student loans are one of those things that should be avoided unless necessary. A student loan can open doors for an opportunity in education and growth that are unattainable any other way. Alternatively, repaying those loans can potentially become a financial burden for many years after the fact. There was a time when college was the only and best chance to a secure future, but every day more and more nontraditional career paths are being created, and a student loan for four years of college isn’t necessarily the one-size-fits-all solution it once was. That’s why it’s important to put the proper research and consideration into making this and other milestone decisions.

The future is exciting, especially when the uncertainty that comes with it is accounted for. Don’t let questions about what comes next keep you from experience all that your life has to offer!