Financial Planning in the Digit(al) Age

By Nele Langhof

Veronica Watts saw firsthand the impact imprudent financial decisions have on a college student’s post-graduation life.

Her parents’ failure to save for their own college motivated Watts to go about financial planning differently.

“I know how my parents kind of went about going to school, and it wasn’t the right way… They didn’t save anything for when they got out, so they had… a bunch of student debt,” Watts said. “I started saving because I wanted to have something in my savings for when I graduated college.”

Watts, a fourth-year international affairs and German double major at the University of Georgia, has turned to technology to help break her family’s pattern of belated financial preparation. She embraced using the mobile money managing application Digit since her sophomore year of college.

The app’s algorithm allows it to analyze a user’s spending patterns and plans a personalized savings schedule to allow the user to maintain as much of her current financial lifestyle as possible, according to Digit’s website.

Saving with Digit allowed Watts to lead a more financially aware lifestyle and to take part in a variety of experiences that otherwise would not have been possible, she said.

“Because of me saving…starting sophomore year, I was about to go on [a] study abroad whereas if I hadn’t, we wouldn’t have been able to afford it,” she said.

Watts is currently saving to attend a music festival using the app’s customizable goal feature, which allows her to set up various financial goals across which to allocate her funds. The app also protects her from overdraft charges, sends daily reminders and financial status updates and generally alleviates much of her financial anxiety, according to Watts.

“It sends you the messages. It lets you know what’s going on. I think any college student would enjoy how hands-off it is too but also like very accessible at the same time,” Watts said.

Ron Sages, a professor in UGA’s department of Financial Planning, Housing and Consumer Economics, specializes in personal financial planning and behavioral finance and warned students against relying solely on an application such as Digit to plan one’s finances.

Instead, he advocated that students take advantage of the various resources that their universities offer, such as UGA’s student run financial counseling program and the help of their Office of Student Financial Aid, to supplement the help of a mobile application.

“We can provide applications to assist people in crunching numbers and the like, but if the individual over time has developed habits which are financially imprudent, an application or financial education alone will not be sufficient to enable an individual to abandon their imprudent practices,” Sages explained.

Having worked as a financial planner for 47 years, Sages said he understood the financial challenges facing college students. Though he recognizes the benefits of financial applications, he encouraged students to take personal accountability of their finances, inform themselves with financial literature and speak with financial planning professionals in their journey towards financial awareness and responsibility.

“There is, in the final analysis, no one set approach that works universally a hundred percent of the time, and that’s the challenge we’re up against not just as a country but as human beings,” said Sages.

Nele Langhof is a journalism student at the University of Georgia. The reporting for this article was completed before the campus closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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