Aug. 31, 2021
Heading to college, university, trade or technical school? Learn to become financially savvy with these six easy steps.
Be the boss
It’s time for you to call the financial shots. This is the part where you kindly let your parents know that you’re ready to take responsibility for your total financial picture, so back off (said with love). Sure, they’ll still be there for questions and support, but to grow this new financial skill set, you’ll need to step in as the primary decision-maker. Listen, you’re not going to always make the right decisions, but that’s part of the learning process. So go easy on yourself. Learn from your mistakes. Ask for help when you need it.
Prioritize financial learning
While you’re in learning mode, why not start listening to the top money and success podcasts? The content will range from budgeting your money, business, investing and anything else that can give you an edge in the real world. If you’re not into podcasts, grab a personal finance book or two from the library and watch free videos on YouTube. Two of the very first books I read in my teens on money were “The Wealthy Barber” (it’s been updated, btw) and “The Millionaire Next Door” — classics that will teach you the fundamentals of money management.
Become a budgeter
You might not have income coming in the door (or perhaps you do, but it’s from a part-time job, loans or your parents). But budgeting as a student is really about managing your costs (the expenses section of the budget). Proactively envision what the month ahead looks like for your finances. What will you need to pay? What kinds of safe social activities will you participate in? Do you need to purchase more supplies? The best way to budget as a student is to plan for the upcoming month and trim back what’s not necessary. If you’re in the fortunate position of having more income than you do expenses, my best advice is to save a good chunk of it. Your future self will thank you, especially when you graduate.
Work while you learn
OK, so maybe you don’t get a job right away, but once you’re feeling more settled with your course load, consider getting a part-time job. It’s a great way to get some extra cash, establish your independence, make new social connections and will help build your resume. Be mindful not to overdo it. Create a positive balance between work, school and play; this is a life skill in and of itself.
Pay very close attention to how you feel about your studies
One of the fastest ways to be financially well after you graduate is to ensure you’re in a field that you actually want to be in. Money follows people who do what they love because they’re more inclined to work harder and smarter when work fills their cup. Now, don’t get me wrong — there will be crummy days in everyone’s work life, but the majority should be fulfilling. If not, that’s a sign you’re a good candidate for a change. So, if you’ve been giving your studies all you’ve got and you seriously hate what you’re learning, seek the advice of a career counsellor and don’t be afraid to switch (after you’ve given it sufficient time).
Watch the debt
I went to school with a woman who used all four years of her student loan money for vacations and a new car. When tuition payments would be due, she’d take a cash advance on her Visa and somehow manage to meet the payment deadline. When she graduated, she had more than $84,000 in debt … all the while living at home.
Don’t let this be you!
Keep your debt to a minimum and be sure to meet your payments on time. This will help you build strong credit over time, but also prevent you from having to pay massive loans and credit card balances back upon graduation. I’d even go so far as to advise that if the debt isn’t going to be used for absolutely essential costs, which include your learning expenses, don’t use it. Post-secondary is the perfect time to celebrate frugality while still dreaming about the future. But for now, you want to live within your means so that you don’t compromise your dreams.
I get that loan repayment is well into the future, but remember that you don’t know what kind of income you’ll have, if it’s going to be enough or if you’ll even have a job upon graduation. Every dollar that goes to debt owing is one less dollar that you’ll have to go toward the awesome life you’ll be building for yourself once you’re in the working world.