Welcome to another installment of IonTuition’s Q&A series with personal finance bloggers. Today we have The NerdWallet’s student loan blogger, Devon Delfino, sharing her strategic personal finance advice with us today.
Devon graduated from Boston University’s College of Communication in 2015 with a degree in journalism. In college she completed two internships, both focused on covering the arts and entertainment beat. After graduation she came back to the Bay Area and freelanced for about seven months. She joined NerdWallet in March after completing a month-long writing boot camp program with the company. Since then she has been writing about higher education, student loans, credit and personal finance. She chose to write in that niche because she wanted to help people who, like herself, wanted to take control of their student loans and learn how to handle money.
What career advice do you have for those who have recently graduated college or started looking into new career paths?
I went to college in Boston so I didn’t really have any connections when I moved back to San Francisco after graduation. I spent about seven months freelance writing and living at home while applying for jobs. It was stressful, but I kept myself busy and I made sure to do at least one thing a day to increase my chances of landing a job. Sometimes that meant sending in an application or finishing a cover letter, but it also meant keeping my personal website up to date, finishing blog posts and maintaining my social media presence.
What are your best tips for people who have debt?
I know it’s tempting to put all your effort into getting rid of your student loans as quickly as possible — and I was definitely guilty of that before I started writing about personal finance — but you really have to think more long-term when it comes to your finances. That means prioritizing your debt based on interest rate to minimize the overall amount you pay. So if you have credit card debt or a personal loan, that needs to be your primary focus before you can really attack your student loans.
Can you offer some advice for people who carry student loan debt and are working toward repayment and trying to become financially stable?
Start building an emergency fund, even if you can only afford to set aside $50 a month. As a twenty-something, you have a lot of financial goals and it’s easier to put off building an emergency fund because it doesn’t feel as urgent as your debt. But it’s the first step to becoming financially stable, and you’ll be thankful for it when the unexpected inevitably comes up.
In your opinion, what are the most important workplace benefits recent graduates should watch for when accepting job offers?
For me, the most important workplace benefit is the 401(k) match. It’s essentially free money, and that can help motivate recent grads to start to get in the habit of saving for retirement. I opened my 401(k) as soon as I started working at NerdWallet, and even though I still have student loans and credit card debt to pay off, I’m contributing enough to that account to get the maximum match.
Again, saving for retirement may not seem urgent in your early 20s. But the earlier you start, the more time your money will have to grow.
What was your biggest challenge when you entered the workforce (after graduation, if you attended college)? How did you overcome it, and would you do anything differently if you had another chance?
When I was freelancing, I was able to set my own hours and operate independently. So starting a 9-to-5 job at a startup was a bit of a culture shock for me. I was able to overcome that by going all in: I volunteered for company initiatives, accepted challenging assignments and got to know my coworkers by scheduling quick intro meetings.
Any other advice to help our readers manage their education or advance their careers?
Find a mentor in your field and utilize your time together wisely. You can read every career blog out there, but you might never come across the valuable insight that a mentor can provide. Start by figuring out what you want out of your meetings (like what skills you want to improve or advice for breaking into your industry), that way you can ensure that you’re getting what you need out of the relationship and respecting your mentor’s time.