Learning how to achieve your financial goals is one of life’s most important lessons. But it’s a lesson most people have to learn on their own, usually by trial and error.
We understand the financial challenges facing college students/graduates. The cost of student loans, rents and mortgages, and the increasing costs of consumer credit, combined with an increasingly broad range of available financing options, requires you to be an expert on the ins-and-outs of balancing, spending and saving, as well as understanding how to use and not abuse available credit. We’re committed to providing you with the information you need to successfully manage your finances and improve the quality of your life, both now and in the future. There are some basic Good Habits For A Sound Financial Future you should develop to help insure a sound financial future.
STEP 1: Define and Outline Your Educational Goals
It is important while you are in school to develop the skills needed to ensure that you will be able to realize your educational goals and have financial peace of mind upon graduation. Financial peace of mind comes from knowing you can meet your financial obligations (living expenses, car payments, student loan debt, etc.). It also means being prepared for the unexpected.
Creating a worksheet for budgeting your educational expenses is intended to start you on the road to financial freedom. To insure that you are making realistic decisions, be sure to follow these rules: consider your income in relation to the amount of time the money will be used. For instance, if you are planning a budget for a 4-month semester, don’t use salary information for a year. And if you are planning for an entire year be sure to include the financial aid award money you expect to receive for an entire year and adjust all university expenses to reflect the entire year.
What you’ve sketched out here are the elements of your dream. You’ve actually estimated the cost of that dream. This is the time to think about financial planning.
STEP 2: Paying For Your Dream
One of the first skills in managing your money is knowing what you’ve got and where it’s going. A budget is a simple tool that will help you know just that, but the sad truth is that most people just don’t want to make a budget. They say "I just kind of know what I’ve got left" or "It just kind of works out by itself" or "I have so little money, I don’t need a budget." But most people never achieve financial freedom, and that’s not good enough for you.
The main thing you need to consider in your budget is keeping it dynamic. Make it a part of your life – don’t just leave it in a drawer somewhere. Your budget will change over time as your situation changes, and you need to keep it flexible.
Create a standard monthly budget to help you get started on the road to managing your money. Each month you should compare your actual expenses to your budget. If certain expenses are breaking the budget, figure out if there is some way you can cut those costs.
Below are several tips you may want to consider.
- The most important category in your budget has your name at the top. Whenever you receive a paycheck, or some money from home, first put aside a small amount toward your personal financial goals, even before you pay your other bills.
- Learn to differentiate between "needs" and "wants."
- You need food, but you want to go out for an expensive dinner with your friends.
- Keep your long-term goals in mind: don’t let short-term desires interfere with attaining long-term objectives. The money you spend now won’t be there for the down payment on the car you want to buy in five years. "Paying yourself first" should be a top priority.
- Set a definite dollar limit for your miscellaneous expenses, including entertainment, gifts and travel – those non-necessities you can’t live without. Stick to your limit.
- Don’t regard any expenditure as unchangeable. If the cost of your rent is holding you back in another budget category, then find a roommate (or another roommate) or move. If your cost of transportation is high, you can walk, or bike or car pool. You can usually find some way to cut almost any category if you’re determined.
- Whenever possible, save up for large purchases. Don’t take on any debts lightly.
- Always comparison shop. Money you save is money you have.
- Set aside something for emergencies. You need enough money in your emergency fund to cover your essential living expenses for at least three months – six is better.
- Evaluate your expenditures every few months to see where your money is being spent, where you can cut back, and where you need to reallocate.
- Automatic Teller Machines are great for convenience, but if you’re not careful, they can make a mess of your record-keeping. Be sure to get a receipt for each ATM transaction and note it in your checkbook.
- Be honest and be realistic. Your budget is no place for fantasy.
Good Habits For A Sound Financial Future
Plan now for the future you want. The following "Top 10" list of good financial habits will help you plan the financing of your education and repayment of your student loan(s).
- Limit your use of credit cards. Save them for emergencies. "Use credit cards for convenience, never for credit."
- Cut up all but one of your credit cards – you only need one. Keep the one with the lowest limit.
- Get in the habit of saving, even if its only $5 per month
- Budget your money just as carefully as you budget your time.
- Keep accurate records of your finances. Your record keeping should include the amount of your accumulated debt, an estimate of your minimum monthly payments, and the name and address of your lender(s). You should also keep copies of all important financial documents (e.g. promissory notes, correspondence from your lender(s), financial aid announcements, and application materials).
- Do not over estimate the magnitude of your paycheck when you graduate, or the probability of the financial windfalls you expect (or hope) to receive. Your paycheck may not go as far as you think once you graduate. Calculate how much you will have to pay in taxes, as well as your monthly student loan and credit card payments, and then subtract the total from your expected gross monthly income. The amount left over is what you will have to pay for your living expenses and other items you want.
- Be a well-informed borrower. Not all loans are alike. Educate yourself about the loans you borrow, know the differences between the various loan programs, and borrow wisely at the lowest possible cost.
- Be thrifty while you are in school! If you live like a graduate while in school, you may have to live like a student after you graduate.
- Plan now for the financial future you want. Identify your goals. Set yourself up for success. Every time you borrow money while in school, whether a student loan or use of your credit card(s), you are using someone else’s money. It does not become your money until you pay it back. Therefore, you are influencing your financial future every time you spend your student loan funds and/or buy something with a credit card. Remember, you will have to repay that debt and, in so doing, you will diminish your future discretionary income. Ask yourself, "Do I really need this now?" before you buy now pay later.
- Borrow the minimum amount necessary to maximize the return on your educational investment.