Most graduates walk out of college holding a degree in one hand while scratching their head with the other. They made it this far, but what’s next? It can be overwhelming looking for a “big-girl” job on top of paying off student loans, buying weekly groceries, and paying rent. There is this sense of impending doom when students realize they do not have a credit score, a budget, a savings account, or any knowledge on personal finance as they enter the working-adult world.
I interviewed Professor Rusty Copsey who is a personal finance instructor at Furman University and Relationships Manager with the Credit Management Group at Wells Fargo Bank. He shared his expertise in preparing college students for financial stability after graduation. Professor Copsey makes managing your finances sound simple with these 4 simple steps:
- Make a Budget
Creating a budget is an easy and organized way to track your spending patterns (those daily trips to Starbucks can really add up!). This way, you can ensure you are making more money than you are spending. Copsey recommends starting your budget on an excel spreadsheet where you can list all your expenses and income or cash inflow. This makes it easy to stay organized, track your spending, and calculate simple math to establish and maintain your budget. This way you can adjust your spending as needed and hold yourself accountable!
- Download Mint
Mint Intuit is a free digital app that allows you to connect all of your bank or financial accounts in one place. It is an interactive way you can track your spending, maintain your budget, set goals, check your credit score, review balances, monitor subscriptions, and so much more. You can also connect your bills, loans, and investments! The app will send you notifications for upcoming subscription payments, bills, payday, and weekly spending reviews. Additionally, it automatically sorts your spending into different categories that you can set individual budgets for. The first assignment in Professor Copsey’s class is downloading this app, and it has truly changed my spending priorities!
- Save! Save! Save!
The earlier you start saving and investing, the better. If there are two things I took away from Copsey’s personal finance class, they would be “compound interest is interest on top of interest” and “money is worth more now.” It is important to set aside a portion of each paycheck to put into savings. Some banks will also set up your debit card to round to the nearest dollar every time you spend something. It is a small amount that adds up over time in your savings account, and more importantly, it is money you cannot touch unless you absolutely have to! It is important to have an emergency fund saved up because you never know when there are car problems or surprises around the corner. You also want to have a plan and set goals for future purchases like your dream house, a new car, or a vacation. Once you get your foot in the door, it is also important to have a savings retirement plan. It might be hard to save for savings sake, but it is a lot easier when you can visualize what you are saving for (and you’ll thank yourself in the future!).
- Get a Credit Card
Most students graduate college without ever having built a good credit score. Companies use your credit history to decide if you qualify for certain payments such as affording a mortgage, getting a loan, or determining an interest rate. One way you can build your credit score is by applying for a credit card. With no credit score, it can be hard to qualify for a credit card, but it is possible to obtain one if you have a parent or family member co-sign for it. It is crucial to pay off your credit card on time and in full every single month to avoid debt and high interest rates. Some banks allow you to set up your account to automatically pay off your credit card in full at the end of every month. There are also several credit cards out there that offer cash-back every time you spend as well as rewards for when you spend money with certain companies. Over time, your consistent payments will build a good credit score, opening up more opportunities for lower interest rates and eligibility for mortgages, loans, and more of the sort.