3 Ways Undergrads Can Become Financial Pros Before Graduation

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leave-a-penny take-a-penny

Working at a convenience store taught Carmen how to budget—and not just because she was close to the “take-a-penny, leave-a-penny” tray.

Here in NYC, the subway is packed with the latest batch of new hopefuls entering the workforce. As I zigzag through them, I wonder how many have loans—and how many are freaking out about the whole “paying back” thing.

This made me start to think about all the small decisions I could have made while in school to positively affected my repayment process. I can’t turn back time. But if I want to keep my job as “best big sister” to the little goose, I can help him prepare for his student loans now that he’s done with high school and heading to Syracuse University.

If you still have time left in school (whether it’s 1 year or 4), take advantage of these tips too.

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The Beginning Of A Financially Savvy Life

My first job in college was working as a cashier at a campus convenience store. The pay was minimal, but I had a steady cash flow for the first time in my life. And it wasn’t until I got that first job that I started to learn how to manage my money.

I put that money I earned toward anything I thought I needed. My biggest concern was learning how to budget to make sure I could buy a plane ticket home for the holidays. Every week, I’d set aside some money for that ticket. And every year, I got to spend the holidays with my family.

Having a job gave me a sense of responsibility, and it helped me do the things I enjoyed. I encourage anyone who can manage their time (or who wants to learn to manage their time) to get a part-time job in college. That way, you’ll learn the crafts of being financially savvy before paying “real world” bills.

But Budgeting Isn’t Easy

If you’re working through college and want to save some cash, start small. Set aside $10 every week. Once you adjust to that, up it to $20. And so on and so forth. Make it a routine. And even if you can’t save one week, because you had to pay for those Beyonce concert tickets, that’s fine. Just don’t break the habit.

Whether you are saving money for that that concert, future loans, or TBD, budgeting is a routine that you will want to keep the rest of your life. If I had done things correctly, looked at the big picture, I would have put some money aside for “future loan payments.” But I didn’t. I did, however, visit several states in the U.S. and a few cities in Europe while in school.

That was all thanks to my budget.

Be On The Lookout For Money-Saving Opportunities

In order to save money, why not win money? Scholarships are a great way to evade signing up for more loans and paying for a longer time. The criteria of the scholarships can vary from hobbies to heritage. Check out state offerings, local community groups, essay contests, or just here online at SALT™ for some scholarship options.

I stopped searching after my freshman year, and now I look at the essay contests and wonder how many I could have won. How much money I could have saved. All the loans I wouldn’t have to pay …

Don’t get lazy like me. Apply to scholarships. Find a job. Stick to your budget. You’ll be a financial pro by the time you graduate college. Ready for whatever life has in store for you. Not freaking out on graduation day like some of us were.

Recent grads, which of your in-school financial habits would you change would you change if you could?

(Photo: Scott Fiddelke)

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