I recently ran across a fascinating article that asked readers of U.S. News & World Report to share financial tips that they wish they had known when they were younger. You can read the full article yourself to get more detail (and additional advice), but in this post I want to summarize what I see as some of the best tips for college students.
- “Save more money, spend less on eating out and shopping, and apply for every scholarship possible.”
- “When you get your first job, put money aside for an emergency fund instead of putting it all into [extra] loan payments.”
- “I wish I’d learned to separate needs from wants.”
- “[I wish I had] put as much as I could into my 401K when I started working.”
- “Financing a vehicle is not conducive to building wealth.”
- “Be sure that when you’re employed you take advantage of your company savings plan.”
- “Too many times in the past I’ve made [career] decisions because of money, not because of what was right for me and my growth.”
In case you didn’t notice, there are a couple of themes that emerge from this advice: saving (do it!) and spending (control it!). Most people who look back in time wish that they had started saving sooner and saved more when they could. They also start to think about what they spent money on: whether it was clothes, shoes, eating out, vacations, or cars, they all wish they’d been a bit more selective in their spending.
While it’s true that you’re (finally) earning an income and you’ve (finally) stopped incurring student loan debt, you also should not lose sight of the fact that this period of your life is (for most people) just a brief respite before life puts many more reasons to incur debt in your path: marriage, a house, children (raising and educating them), aging parents, and planning for your own retirement. So, think long and hard before developing new car, vacation, and credit card habits at this stage of your life.
The only one of these tips that does not pertain to saving or spending is the one I listed last. That struck me as so distinctly different that I wanted to focus on it more than the others, which are all pretty easy to comprehend and learn from immediately. The advice suggested by that final tip, however, may be difficult to accept when you’re faced with a lot of student loan debt. But it emphasizes that it’s important to think of many factors when you’re deciding what position to accept (in an ideal world where you have multiple positions to choose from). I have written elsewhere in this blog about some of those factors (see “What should I look for in a job?”), but just keep in mind that, while money is certainly important, there’s more to life than earning a living. Being able to think about and plan for your future is also very important.