Tanya from Eat Laugh Purr is back to share some practical advice to college freshman.
Everyone has heard of The Freshman 15. Those dreaded fifteen pounds that somehow magically find their way on to your hips, gut, butt and/or thighs. It’s not an urban legend, folks. It’s something almost every single freshman will battle. But carrying a few extra pounds isn’t the only danger freshman face. There is also a lesser known Freshman (and Sophomore, Junior and Senior) 15 that many gain in debt. Those fifteen pounds of debt are just as unhealthy but far less discussed.
College and excess seem to go hand-in-hand these days, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can still have fun while not getting bloated with debt.
You may have expected me to recommend that you avoid credit cards. Nope. I want you to instead learn how to use one wisely and to your benefit, which means NOT CARRYING A BALANCE. To use your credit card to build a healthy credit score that will show future landlords and prospective bosses that you are a responsible adult worthy of their apartment and/or job.
Weight Loss Tip: If your credit card gives you a high credit limit, say anything above $1-2K, call them and have them lower it. This way if you do go overboard and binge, you at least limit the damage.
This won’t apply to everyone, but if you took student loans, don’t treat that money like it is free. It’s not. Twenty years from now, when you’re still paying off your student loans, you will really regret all the stupid things you bought that had nothing to do with getting a college degree.
To help you stretch your money, you need to create a budget. This is not a bad thing. Or punishment. Instead think of budgeting as a way to make sure that you have money for the things you enjoy most. Figure out your expenses (your non-discretionary expenses) and what you have left is your fun (or discretionary) money to use on what matters most.
Weight Loss Tip: Initially budget generously for expenses because you will likely need to buy things Mom and Dad previously bought for you, such as shampoo, soap, deodorant and food. You will also quickly learn why you got yelled at for using (or eating) so much. Things are expensive.
Whether on-campus or off, find a part-time job. This will help minimize your reliance on student loan money and give you valuable experience. School work certainly comes first, but in all honesty, I’ve never seen a part-time job truly be the culprit behind poor grades. Let’s get real — it’s those nights out that cause trouble. And a part-time job may mean occasionally missing a night out with friends, but you need money to do that, right? I thought so.
If you want to party with your friends on Spring Break, fine. Save for it and don’t fund it with student loan money or your credit card. Or maybe instead you want to spend the summer between your junior and senior year pack-backing through Europe. Great, than plan and save for it. It’s time move from being reactive to thinking big picture about what you truly want while you’re in school and afterwards, so you can start planning (and likely saving) in order to make your goals a reality.
You’re going to meet a lot of people in college. Some connections you forge will change your life forever, personally and professionally. Look for those connections and find someone to mentor you, whether it’s to help you navigate successfully through college or to help get your foot in the door at your dream job years later. And when it is your turn to be the mentor, step up to the plate and return the favor.
College is where you start to uncover who you are and it often begins by discovering what you love. Do something you’ve always wanted to try or something that scares you. Start new hobbies and abandon them without regret if they don’t make you happy and pursue something else that does. This is about what makes you happy, not about doing what makes others happy.
Weight Loss Tip: Still remain mindful of how you spend your money. It’s okay to invest money into figuring out what you love but avoid creating debt. Debt is the ultimate passion killer.
While I green lit you having an a credit card to establish a good credit score and to learn how to use one responsibly, it should not be considered your emergency fund (this is how a lot of smart people end up gaining those 15 pounds of debt). You should actually have a small emergency fund because your car will still break down, you will lose your cell phone or spill soda over your laptop. Having an emergency fund is a good habit to form while you’re in college.
Thanks to the omniscient presence of advertising and social media, we battle those keep up urges starting at a very young age. For many young people, the first time they really hold the power (i.e. credit cards and/or extra student loan money) to actually keep up on their own is in college. Please, please DO NOT fall prey to those urges. You must be strong and not follow the herd, but your heart, values and goals. It may still lead you to the same place, but at least you know it is because YOU want it. And how do we get the things we want? We save for them. And buy them guilt-free and joyfully.
Most young people have lived relatively sheltered, insular lives under their parents watchful eyes and set by their friends’ norms. Now you are on your own and less encumbered. This is not permission to be reckless or to do dangerous things. But an opportunity to expand your horizons and experiences. To widen your perspective. A chance to explore new cultures, different activities, people and places.
Be active in college. Join organizations and clubs. Participate. Don’t sit on the sidelines; get involved. The relationships and connections you make will be invaluable. It will also look good on your first resume when you’re very light on experience. Impress your first employer with the various activities you supported and any leadership roles you held.
College is that bridge from childhood to adulthood and where you truly become self-sufficient. Mom and Dad are always going to be there for you and should still be your first call when you run into unknowns. But now is also the time to learn how to thrive. To develop the skill-sets to live on your own and make smart financial decisions, so you can bid adios to the Bank of Mom and Dad and walk on your own two feet financially.
No one likes to make mistakes but you will make some, both financially and personally. Period. Don’t waste precious time beating yourself up over them. Nor should you use them as an excuse to give-up. Instead do the only thing that matters: learn from them and move on.
College for many has become an expectation, but it is a privilege. Treat it as such. You’ve been given a huge opportunity and advantage that many people both here in the United States and around the world do not have. You’ll no longer have anyone telling you what to do and experience freedoms that you’ve never had before. Don’t abuse this power. Respect it because you can also lose it. Channel your energy into learning so you can not not only make your own life better but also the world.
And lastly, have fun! Being financially healthy and real does not mean you must forfeit fun. In fact, fun should always remain on the table. Be smart about it and you’ll learn that you can have your cake and eat it too, without gaining weight or debt, if you save for what you truly want.
What advice do you have to incoming freshman to help them avoid The Freshman 15 (debt or otherwise)? How did you stay financially trim in college?