According to the Council for Economic Education, only a third of states require high school students to take a personal financial class in order to graduate. That is too low. Therefore, it is no surprise that one in five 15-year-olds in the US lack basic financial literacy in 2017 according to the Program for International Student Assessment. Combine these facts with ballooning student debt and it is no wonder that college students are feeling overwhelmed and stressed about their financial situation. According to a recent study, 60 percent of college students are scared they won’t have enough money to pay for school. In addition, about 50 percent are worried about making their monthly ends meet, and 32 percent admit that their money woes sometimes get in the way of actually studying for their classes.
So what can students do about it? They have to take matters into their own hands and make financial fitness a priority. Here are 5 tips to achieve your financial fitness goals:
1) Educate yourself
The first step is educate yourself. You can't really proceed until you have a basic understanding of any topic. Sign up for an introduction to finance class and make sure you take it seriously. At my alma mater the University of Richmond, they offer a personal finance class that “introduces the analytic skills, logical thought processes, and the information literacy necessary for making personal financial decisions.” If your school doesn't offer one, you can head to Coursera for a class like “Personal & Family Financial Planning” from the University of Florida which is highly rated. After you have the basics down, you aren't finished. Keep learning from books, classes and the internet. A great book to start with is the #1 personal finance book of all-time Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money – that the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! by Robert Kiyosaki.
2) Get a financial workout buddy
Working out is easier when you have a buddy and the same can be said about financial fitness. Get a friend and take the classes together. Then you can discuss what you learned and apply the lessons. Let each other know your goals and then hold each other accountable. It is important to also surround yourself with like-minded individuals who have similar desire and goals as yourself. If your goal is to save more money, don't hang out with people that prioritize spending and racking up credit card debt.
3) Take that scholarship
This is a lesson from Kyle Winey, author of the book HACKiversity. When deciding where to go to undergrad or graduate school, he recommends taking the barbell approach – the values are at the extremes. On one side is the elite schools like Yale and Harvard. If you get in, then go. You may pay a high price but the benefits of their reputation and the people you meet are invaluable. However, that is a very small percentage of people. On the other side of the barbell is going to the university that is considered a “tier 3 school” that offers you the most scholarship money. In Kyle's case, he was offered a full ride by a tier 3 grad school and looking back, he says that he should have taken it. “If you aren't playing in the elite world, then you want to be on the other side of the spectrum generating the most value as you can.” If you can graduate debt free, you won't have that financial stress hanging over your head for years to come.
4) Get inspired
It is important to draw inspiration from people that are successful. Learn from them and then emulate them. I suggest to listening to the Inspired Money Podcast where Andy Wang interviews an interesting individual every week with an inspired money story to help listeners get inspired, shift their perspectives on money, and achieve incredible things. From making it to giving it away, inspired money means making a difference, creating something bigger than oneself, and maybe even making the world a better place. For example, Tim and Amy Rutherford changed their lives by spending less so they were able to retire in their 40s! Another great story was Matt Miller who turned $100 into a multi-million dollar, passive income vending machine business.
5) Favor experiences over stuff
Not everything is about saving. You still have to reward yourself from time to time. But you often hear that money can't buy happiness. However behavioral science begs to differ. Research shows that money can make us happier, but only if we spend it in particular ways. Author Michael Norton, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, describes it like this:
One of the most common things people do with their money is get stuff. But we have shown… in research that stuff isn't good for you. It doesn't make you unhappy, but it doesn't make you happy. But one thing that does make us happy is an experience.
So spend your hard earned dollars wisely or even better yet, find some free experiences! With the internet, you can often find tons of free entertainment and events going on in your area.
Don't buy the latest handbag, car or TV. If you are going to spend money then buy an experience that you can draw on for years to come. Take a trip that will change your life for the better. Expand your worldview. Backpack around Europe with friends visiting seven countries in thirty days. Sip Sangria in Plaça Reial in the middle of Barcelona and when you ask the waiter to take your picture, you wind up with a photo of the waiter instead and your friends in the background. Now that is worth a lifetime of memories!
What tips do you have for college students trying to get financially fit? Please share them in the comments below.