For many of us, college is our first real taste of independence: living on our own, being responsible to get ourselves awake, fed and in class when required. It may seem overwhelming, but it can also be an opportunity to learn time management, budgeting and other basics, in addition to what you learn in the classroom. It can be a good idea to use this time wisely and “get ahead” as best you can through internships, a side job, or even making early payments on student loans. Whether you are a parent of a student or a student yourself, check out some ways you can start working toward your financial well-being before you even enter “the real world.”
1. Get Educated
While you are working hard on your classes, it can be a good idea to take time to learn about some things they may not cover in the classroom. In your downtime or even during those long vacations that likely won’t exist once you get a job, turn to reputable online resources, a financial adviser or an experienced family member to discuss finances.
Some good topics to familiarize yourself with are how credit cards work and how to pick the right credit card for you, different loans you may encounter in the future and how to handle debt, possible investment strategies, as well as savings or retirement accounts and how to build them.
2. Plan Big
Once you learn a little bit about what being a financially responsible adult is all about, you can make sure you have a college budget. This can help you learn how to prioritize what’s really important (like deciding between that spring break trip or going out to eat a few times a week).
Now can also be a good time to learn that money doesn’t grow on trees, even if you’re lucky enough to have an allowance or access to a credit card. Making a budget can help you start to understand how to live within your means. And think about your budget for both life in college and after. Will your parents be helping you pay off student loans or letting you move in with them for a time so you can save up money? Do they expect to be paid back for college expenses? How much money do you need to make to handle your student loan payments, car payments, credit card debts? Research your career goals and get an idea for average starting salaries or details about your desired industry. It can be a good time to get an idea of what you can expect financially so you can budget better in the future.
3. Start Small
While you plan big and implement the basic strategies that can set you up with some good habits, you may also be able to get to work on some real savings. Make a goal and work toward it so you can get comfortable with the process. You may even be able to set some money aside for a later date.
You may even have something you want to save up for before you graduate, like a spring break trip or a new car. You can use these opportunities to get used to setting money aside and delaying the purchase. Opening and growing your own account can help you learn about simple fee structures, ATM and debit access, overdraft protection, and how interest accrues through real experience.
You may want to consider getting a side job if possible or even just freelance whatever skills you have from your dorm room or campus library.
It’s also a great time to start checking your credit regularly. It can help you spot fraud and make those post-college goals like buying a car or consolidating your student loan debt much easier. You can check two of your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com.
It may not seem like what you do in college will have a big effect on your fiscal health down the road, but the line between secondary education and “the real world” is getting thinner and thinner. The more you can do to get educated and prepared financially, the better off you will be in the future.
More on Student Loans:
- How Student Loans Can Impact Your Credit
- Can You Get Your Student Loans Forgiven?
- A Credit Guide for College Graduates
Image: Wavebreak Media