College Connect: Six steps to develop good money habits

Posted By David Wilhite

By Emily Haney

When it comes to personal finances, students typically fall in to one of two categories: seasoned or beginner.

J.T. Lynch, a sophomore at the University of Georgia, falls in to the latter category. Lynch said his parents covered only the basics of dealing with money while he was growing up. “It was just pay off your debt and use credit cards for emergencies,” said Lynch. “I really don’t know how to do those things, but I know I should. I don’t know how to save.”

For Lynch and others in his situation, it’s not too late to start learning the basics needed to develop a saving habits and increase savings, according to Matt Goren, a financial advisor in the Aspire Clinic at the University of Georgia.

“I was doing some projections on how to answer the question “how late is too late?” and for your average American, they need to start saving before their late thirties,” said Goren. “That’s the beginning of crisis, if you have zero savings by then. If you wait until you’re 23 or 24, it’s not that bad.” But starting to build savings while still in college is even better and Goren outlines six steps to get started:

  1. Know where your money is going.

This is what Goren tries to get everyone to do first. “It might seem obvious, but the majority of people have no idea,” said Goren. If your money is coming from one bank account, you can easily track your expenses through your bank. If not, there are apps such as Mint, Personal Capital and Future Advisor. The benefit to this is you can see exactly what’s coming in and exactly what’s going out. According to Goren, people are normally surprised by one of the figures that shows up, which shakes a lot of people in to being financially aware.

  1. Try to raise your income

Go get a better paying job. “The best job is one that aligns with the career you want or a job that’s probably on campus that lets you sit there and do your homework,” said Goren. “You can also make in a summer, what a minimum wage job makes in a year, if you do this.” Scholarships are another source of income for college students. Goren suggests spending an hour a week applying for scholarships.

  1. Set goals and make savings a habit

“People will have a goal, but they won’t sit down to figure out how to achieve it and change their behavior,” said Goren. If you want to own a house, a car or anything else, Goren recommends calculating how much money you would need to save and then adjusting your habits accordingly. Decide to set aside something like $50 a month every month. “As soon as you get your paycheck, put the money away. Pretend like it’s something you never had to begin with,” said Goren.

  1. Cut down on big expenses

Rank your items from what you’re spending the most amount of money to what you’re spending the least amount of money. Goren will often see students who spent $50 at a birthday party and vow never to go to another one. In the grand scheme, $50 doesn’t make a difference because it’s a one-time occurrence.  “Ask yourself what am I spending on every month, and how does this add up” said Goren. “Housing is the number one expense followed by transportation, so figure out how you can cut costs here. Do you really need a car? Can you move in to a cheaper apartment?”

  1. Found Money

Found money is money that you didn’t expect to have and doesn’t have to mean found in the literal sense. When you find money, like with birthday presents or winning a contest, take at least half of the found money and save that, according to Goren. Save half of unexpected sources of money. “If you find $20 think of it as I have $10 to spend on anything because you’re saving the other $10. Your quality of life still improves,” said Goren.

  1. Accountability

You have to make saving a habit, according to Goren. Make your goals happen by a little bit.

Couples can manage their money better than someone who isn’t in one because they have someone to hold them accountable. “If you don’t have this relationship, find a friend who you can discuss money decisions with,” said Goren. “They’re a sounding board and someone who can ask you how your saving goal is going.”

It’s recommended that students have somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000 saved. “If you’re not there, sit down, have a pity party and start from there,” said Goren. “Most college students’ income increases after they graduate, so their savings double and triple as well.” Everyone’s savings look different, so figure out what works for you based on Goren’s guide. Above all, Goren said that in the scheme of things it’s going to be fine. Don’t panic, and develop the habits now.

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