No matter your financial situation in college, money matters to some degree. And since you develop habits for the rest of your life during this time, it’s smart to start building healthy financial practices.
This post deals with saving and making money in college, and doesn’t deal with scholarships or financial aid. I figure those subjects deserve their own blog post.
I enjoy conversations about personal finance (I’m a weirdo, I know). But if you’re like me or unlike me, know that gaining better financial literacy will improve your life.
From my experience and research, below are five important financial tips for college students.
1. Take At Least A Full Courseload Each Semester
Regardless of if you came into college with extra credit from AP classes, it’s financially wise to take at least a full courseload each semester. It will make your semesters busier, yet you’ll graduate early or on time. Then you’ll avoid extra costs like room and board, and other miscellaneous university fees that add up the more semesters you’re in school.
In other words, don’t fall into the trap of taking three classes one semester and then two classes the next semester to make your life easier. Your temporary situation will be less difficult, but it can produce more severe problems later, like graduating late and adding more student-loans debt.
2. Find A Job With A Manageable Schedule
An easy way to make money is to get a job, obviously. However, finding the right job is key so you’re able to help your savings account, focus on your studies, and enjoy college.
Look for work where the hours are manageable. Somewhere around 10 hours a week will give you decent income for spending money or savings. And if possible, find work that lets you complete homework on the job. A library desk job is a good example. If you can find an internship that helps you get experience in your future field, that’s even better.
3. Use A Credit Card (If You Can)
If used correctly, a credit card can be an extremely helpful resource. But if it’s used recklessly, racking up credit card debt can destroy your finances for decades to come. So, the rest of this advice assumes that you’ll be responsible with a credit card and not build credit-card debt.
Charging expenses to your credit card gives you many advantages over cash. These advantages include not having to pay for a purchase until the payment is due each month, gaining rewards (cash back, frequent flier, etc.) for using the card, and increasing your credit score.
Most major credit-card companies offer 1% cash back rewards (sometimes 5% for special items). For every $100 you spend, you get $1 back, which can add up. If you pay with cash, this obviously doesn’t happen. Last year, I cashed out my credit-card rewards for over $200.
And, using a credit card responsibly—paying your bill on time and not going too close or over your monthly spending limit—builds your credit score. So does having a credit card for a long time period. This score may not be that important in college. But, a high credit score can save you thousands of dollars on interest rates when you make big purchases (car, home, boat, etc.).
Don’t know what’s your credit score? Check out Cafe Credit and their list of websites offering free access to credit scores.
So, find a credit card with no annual fee, good cash back rewards (or frequent flyer points, etc.), and a low-interest rate if you do happen to overdraft—but make it easy on yourself and don’t overdraft.
4. Live Cheaply
Many college students are deceived about their spending, because they see how their parents use their money. But, we don’t realize that most of our parents are close to the peak of their financial wealth. Meaning they didn’t spend the same way when they were our age.
If you want a healthier bank account, practice living as cheap as you can in college. (Depending on your finances, you can also increase your wealth by living like a college student after you graduate.)
Don’t feel the need to have fancy clothes, drive a new car, or go on crazy-expensive vacations because of social pressure. If you build good saving and spending habits, you’ll most likely get the last laugh over your friends when you meet again at the reunion.
5. Invest In The Stock Market A.S.A.P.
If you don’t have debt and have enough money for a decent standard of living, then invest in the stock market as soon as you can and consistently (even if it’s a little every month).
Because you’re so young, you can capitalize on the advantage of compound interest over time. Do this to grow your investment from thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and then millions.
You can also see the power of compound interest for yourself by using the ‘When will I be a millionaire?’ calculator. Simply apply your savings, contribution figure, and a 7% annual return (safe number). Or use these other CNN money calculations.
So, how do you invest? You can use companies like Fidelity, Vanguard, or T. Rowe Price and do it yourself. Warren Buffett, and I, recommend you buy an index fund that matches the S&P 500. This way, you get many of the biggest companies in the U.S., which have proven to perform anywhere from 7% to 10% per year on average.
Lastly, when talking to older people about money, it’s very common to hear them say they wished they invested their money sooner. Don’t let their regret be a reality in your life. Start investing now.
Related: Best Savings Account