7 Personal Finance Tips for College Kids

Yup - More advice for college kids.

Yup – More advice for college kids.

Chapel Hill is once again overrun with the bustle of students back at UNC. Restaurants are packed and campus is vibrating with the nervous excitement that envelopes our small town each Fall. Unfortunately, not all students are prepared to take-on the privilege and responsibility of freedom only a college student can experience.  Here are 7 Personal Finance Tips we have used with other kids and their parents. 

1. Finish Your Education

The only thing more expensive than a life without a college degree is a life with a partial degree and student loans. If your college student is struggling at State Univ with a bazillion other kids, take the next semester break to meet with a career counselor or clinical education consultant to discuss what about Big U. is not working for your kid. Don’t dump another penny into education until it’s towards the most effective environment for their learning. 

2. Set a Budget
Sit down with the parents, figure out what they are willing to provide either monthly, semester or for the whole year. This is your ‘income’ essentially. Next, calculate all your Essentials or Needs (beer is not a need). Things like printer cartridges, meal plan or food money, gas money if your off campus, text books. Next, figure out your Wants (this IS beer money). Add your Needs and Wants – this is your estimate in expenses. Break it down per week since doing it by months does not fit well with semester length. If you have $100 per week for your entire budget and your parents do a great job of ignoring request for additional injections of cash, you will quickly learn how to use a budget. We encourage parents to not put a lump sum in an account everything month – it’s way too tempting to blow through that in a week. Instead, put it in weekly based on the budget you all came up with. Any adjustments should be made during semester breaks in person. 

3. Invest (… a little)
What you’re lacking in capital (ie. $$$) you can make up for in time. With very little money put aside either each month or year, you’ll be able to take advantage of compound interest – the most magical of money making secrets. Here’s an example:
Let’s say you took $1,000 invested it August 2014 in a mutual fund with an interest rate of 5% per year as you were heading of to NYU for Fall classes. Each subsequent year, you put in only $250. After you graduate you get a job – not your dream job, but something that covers your bills with a little extra. You continue to put in $250 per year and do this for another 6 years. The total amount you invested was $1000 + ($250 x 9 years) =  $3250. But the cray thing is, your money has been quietly making little money babies in your mutual fund and the total value is actually $4,930.59. Nice. That’s $1700 in income you made without lifting a finger. What another magic trick? Put no more money in EVER and when you are 59 years old, that same $3250 will be worth $24,023.96. Play around with this calculator to see more about what money does over time. 

4. Learn Finance Basics
This is a great time to learn the basics about taxes, expenses, budgets and cost of living. Waiting until you’re 29 years old, married with a child on the way is the wrong time to start learning. Take advantage of any finance classes available at your school. Ask to help your parents during March and April while they prepare for taxes. The absolute most hardcore way to learn personal finance from my perspective is to start a business. This pushes you to understand basics of cashflow, expenses, revenue vs profits, taxes, selling, marketing and negotiating – all skills totally transferable to most other life domains. 

5. Lock Up Your Money
If you are a student and have money of your own either from a job or money from parents – consider putting it aside till you graduate. How do you figure out what to put aside? This is where our fancy-schmancy budget comes in. Figure out your reasonable realistic expenses for a semester X 8 semesters = Four years of college expenses. Life below your means (ie. income) and invest in yourself through education, relationships and experiences. Ignore all the crap other students stuff their dorms and apartments with and focus on yourself, getting the most out of your four years with low responsibility and high freedom. 

6. Get a Credit Card
The old school wisdom was to never get a credit card. Ideally, that sounds great – pay for everything with cash. Reality is credit (FICA credit score, that is) matters and credit cards are a great way to start building a great score. We recommend getting a credit card with a ceiling or spending limit that gets paid off each month. If the credit card is only used for school purchases like books, computer stuff, etc. it makes tracking the expenses for deductions and tax purposes way easier. It also helps provided easy tracking for expenses as relating to your new budget. Finally, it allows parents to easily review and pay the card balance while also getting card points if parents are in fact covering the bill. How to find one that fits? Try out Nerdwallet for some reviews on cards that seem well suited for the responsible college student. 

7. Work (…a little)
If you are privileged enough to not have to work while you’re in school, it’s not a bad idea to pick up a small part time job (or start a side business – ideas include laundry pickup, tutoring, making t-shirts). This will help build your resume and put some money in your savings account you’ll be able to tap when you graduate. If you’re taken out student loans, you’ll have to start repaying them within a few months of graduating so having a bit of a cushion in the bank will help lower your anxiety if finding a job or getting into grad school is tricker than planned. 

Ok, hope this helps get you all excited and prepared for the Fall semester. Contact us if you have specific questions about personal finance or career counseling for your college kid.