My Advice to College Students

Posted by Mrs Money on July 20th, 2010

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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.

Consider credit

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?

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7 Responses to “My Advice to College Students”


  1. Jenny says:

    My husband and I got married in college, and boy did we wish that ONE of us had gotten a credit card at 18! Our parents had advised against it, but really, I would have felt absolutely terrible about carrying a balance on one. Because of my conservative comfort zone and my husband’s minimalistic tendencies, it would’ve just helped us build our credit.

    I also wish we’d opened up a savings account and been serious about putting money in it whenever we could. It seems like common sense, but to college kids who were caught up planning a big wedding, it didn’t come naturally. We could’ve done a lot better, and sometimes I wish we could go back and do it over, but college was kind of a pain and I don’t really want to do it again, anyway :-)

    [Reply]

    Mrs Money Reply:

    Jenny- I agree! I got a credit card when I turned 18 and paid it off every month. It really helped me build credit!

    I wouldn’t want to do college over again either! :)

    [Reply]

  2. I’d highly suggest getting a credit card if you can. My younger sister is 19 and can’t get one even though she made more at her summer internship than I do in 8 months! Building good credit is one of the smartest things you can do if you won’t abuse your account.

    I’d also suggest having a part-time job. Staying busy helped me stay on track. I was just too busy to have time to screw up. :-)

    Since you don’t need to spend the job money on school, SAVE it. I will guarantee you that you will wish you had some cash on hand for something you REALLY want or need within 5 years after graduating. We could have bought our house even earlier if we had some extra money right out of college (but I paid my way through, so I was broke).

    [Reply]

    Mrs Money Reply:

    BITFS- I’m glad you agree! I think it’s a good idea to do it when you’re 18, and even do it with a parent if you need to. Great tips on everything else! I think you are spot on!

    [Reply]

  3. Little House says:

    These are all great tips. I’d add that instead of a paper register to keep track of expenditures, maybe sign up for Mint.com or something similar. I think people tend to avoid writing down their expenses on paper and then forget where they spend their money.

    [Reply]

    Mrs Money Reply:

    Little House- That’s also a great tip! I am old school and use a register, but I know a lot of people don’t! Using an online budgeting tool would definitely be helpful! :)

    [Reply]


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