Ultimate Money Blog reader Christian sent me an email asking for my advice for a college freshman. He just set up his own checking and savings accounts and wants to get a head start on his finances. He’s secured a partial scholarship and his parents and himself are footing the rest of the bill. Here’s the advice I would give to college students:
Manage your Bank Accounts Wisely
Make sure you’re keeping up with your checking account. I recommend using a check register so you know exactly how much money you have in your account at all times. When your statement is ready, reconcile against what you think you should have. Sometimes banks make mistakes and they can be costly! Also, merchants can run debit card transactions for incorrect amounts, and if you don’t double check, you can end up getting charged a lot more than you really paid. Make sure you have some type of overdraft protection set up on your checking account just in case.
Keep money that’s in savings savings. Don’t use it unless it’s an emergency. Save as much money as you can, but don’t beat yourself up about it. I would recommend starting a savings account at a separate financial institution (perhaps online) so you’re not tempted by viewing the balances every time you log onto online banking to view your checking account. Out of sight, out of mind. Plus, it’s harder to access your money so that will be less tempting as well.
Focus on your studies
I know this one doesn’t seem like an obvious financial answer, but hear me out. When you do well in college, you learn good habits and persistence and other good skills. Many of these skills can be applied to every day life and will help you out in the long run. Plus, the better you do in college, the more likely you may be to get hired at a company or secure an internship.
Don’t get wrapped up in money
Don’t worry about making tons of money while in school if it isn’t absolutely necessary. Of course, if you need money to pay the rent or buy groceries, you’ll have to make sure you’re working enough hours to make the bills. If your parents are willing to help support you financially with living expenses, make sure to focus on your studies instead of getting wrapped up in the amount of money you could be making by working. Trust me, the hourly wage you get paid now versus what you’ll (hopefully) get paid as a college graduate can be vastly different. Focus on the long term, even when things get tough.
I know I may get flack for this, but I think it’s truly valuable to get a credit card when you’re 18 if (and only if) you’re responsible with your money. If you know that it may be too tempting to have a line of credit, don’t get one. I think one of the worst mistakes you could do with your finances is jumping in to credit card debt at an early age. It takes forever to dig out of it sometimes! Don’t ever charge anything on a credit card that you don’t have cash in your checking account for. Paying interest on credit cards sucks. If you can get a credit card and handle it wisely, by the time you’ve graduated college you’ll have some credit built.
I think the most important things when heading off to college are: focus on your studies, don’t get in credit card debt, and don’t spend money foolishly. Keep up the great work, Christian!
What advice would you give to college students?