Financial stress is coming to campus. According to The Ohio State University’s (OSU’s) 2017 Study on Collegiate Financial Wellness, 68% of college students suffer from financial stress. The survey, which featured responses from more than 28,000 students across 90 campuses, showed that 43% of students worry about being able to pay monthly expenses and 63% worry about paying for school.
Ben Raines, program coordinator for financial education within the Student Life Student Wellness Center at OSU, divides financial stress among students into two groups: short- and long-term. Students with short-terms anxiety sweat over rent bills and tuition expenses. Those with long-term concerns worry how they will pay back their student loans or even land a job after graduation.
Most people idealize college as a time of exploration, hope, excitement, and growth—not going gray over your expenses. Step Up Magazine did the homework to learn the top financial tips for students.
Embrace the Budget
Your mom told you, your grandparents told you, and now the experts are telling you: creating a budget is the first step towards responsible financial management. Daniel Elkington, a chartered financial planner at MT Financial Management, has a straightforward process for creating a fool-proof budget.
You’ll want to start by “looking at what you’ve got coming in on a monthly basis” and assigning your expenditures to one of three categories. According to Elkington, you should categorize an expense as “core spending” if it’s essential. If it’s not essential but cheers you up on a rainy day, it’s “discretionary spending.” Everything else goes under “luxuries.” Covering core spending is your monthly income’s priority. Anything left over can be used on discretionary (or luxury) expenses.
But don’t just make a budget and forget it. Elkington advises setting a date to regularly check in on your financial status. Those who compare their bank statements to their budgets at least once per month “are richer and are able to retire earlier,” he says. “It’s a great discipline to get into.” He also recommends avoiding rash purchases when you’re emotional, under peer pressure, or unrested (few wise purchases occur after 11pm).
Bolster Your Buffer
Although a good budget is your first step to financial help, it can’t solve all your problems. You might meet all your expenses, but what if disaster strikes?
According to the 2017 Study on Collegiate Financial Wellness, 43% of students couldn’t come up with $400 in a financial emergency, says Erica Phillips, the associate director of the Center for the Study of Student Life at OSU. You need an emergency fund too.
Mr. Raines agrees. “An emergency fund can help keep students out of financial crises caused by unexpected expenses like car repair or medical expenses,” he says. Family may help some students absorb these shocks, “but, for others, it may result in credit card or other forms of high interest debt.”
How much should you contribute to your emergency fund? It depends on your circumstances, so don’t feel pressured to set aside a specified amount. But instead of splurging the next time you have extra cash at the end of the month, consider holding onto it for a crisis.
Play the Loan Game…Right
Used wisely, loans are valuable investments in your future. Mismanaged, they shackle you to a lifetime of monthly payments and compounding interest rates. Unfortunately, student loans put many people in the latter situation. Half of students report that the debt they’re accruing causes them a large or extreme amount of stress, according to the OSU study.
Although the same study shows students can remain financially stressed despite best practices, Mr. Raines has advice to avoid long-term debt albatrosses. If you’re relying on loans to finance some or all your education or living expenses, “being deliberate with how you use your money can be helpful in reducing your overall debt burden and the amount of interest you pay over your loan repayment period.” You may not avoid mental stress, but at least you are less likely to be crippled for life.
The Credit Code
Credit cards are all about responsibility. Mr. Raines warns students to self-reflect on their spending habits before signing up. Used prudently during college, credit cards are an excellent chance to strengthen your credit score and qualify yourself for prime life opportunities. However, they can also be your financial Trojan horse.
Mr. Elkington recommends reserving credit cards for online purchases and otherwise leaving them at home to curb impulse purchases. Furthermore, he urges students to protect themselves against online fraud by using PayPal whenever possible. Mr. Raines echoes similar advice: “I always advise students to simply put one of the many inexpensive subscription services the average student uses on their credit card, set up automatic payments…and lock the card in their desk to avoid overspending.” Don’t use credit cards for purchases you can’t pay off at the end of the month.
Olivia Amici is a hustler who has been writing short stories for fun since high school and editing scientific papers since moving to Concepcion, Chile, for a gap year. Before then, she paid her way through community college while working as an event coordinator and a dental assistant. Once she returns to the States, she is excited to complete her degree in biology at University of Florida. In ten years, she would like to be working as a medical research editor and own an African Gray Parrot and a house in San Diego.