Are You Literate?

We spend thousands of dollars on a college education, but not a cent is spent on learning real-life skills. (Or so you think. This article is brought to you by our Financial Aid Office located at Room 180 in the Administration Building.)

World Mythology? Philosophy of Ancient Greece? Safe to say that in terms of archaic literature -we’re covered. In terms of being financially literate? Less so. What does it even mean to be financially literate? Well, put simply it is the “knowledge of being able to make informed decisions.” It seems straightforward, but it’s difficult to put into practice.

Start small. Ask yourself, is this a need or a want? When you need something you are taking into account the physical and psychological factors required for your survival. So while you may want to argue that the latest Nintendo Switch is something you need in your life or you’ll die of FOMO, it’ll take a little more convincing than that. Wants are for convenience or comfort. They’re things that you can upgrade or change, usually for social reasons. Don’t think I’m telling you that you can’t give in to your wants every now and then, but remember that everything is a series of trade-offs so consider the long term. Think of the Oculus Rift. I want to fly to outer space in the comfort of my own home just like the next person, but I know that a year or two down the line prices and graphics will drastically differ. I might have to settle for my own reality for now, but hey, I’ll survive. 

Thinking for the long term can be difficult so in order to stay on track, you may want to set financial goals. Here’s the acronym that our Money SMART program at Stony Brook likes to use:

Specific: Be specific in terms of how much you want to save. Try putting aside $20 from each week’s paycheck. If you put it into a savings account, it’ll be like finding money in your pocket every so often, definitely a pleasant surprise.

Measurable: Set milestones to show your steady progress. It will give you that sense of achievement and give you something to be proud of. After those five weeks, you will have saved $100!

Attainable: Don’t be too ambitious though because you don’t want to be setting yourself up for failure. If you only make $40 a week, obviously saving half of it is nearly impossible. Plan according to your other expenses and save some for your personal enjoyment as well.

Relevant: Your goals should be important. You didn’t spend all of those weeks saving for nothing; you’re planning on getting a new car or a new laptop. No one is happy about spending hours at a carnival game for a kazoo as a prize.

Timebound: Set those start and end dates. Start small and start early.

All of this is related to budgeting. Consider it as the map for your money. As college students, we’re always spending, be it on tuition, a meal plan, or buying textbooks. If we examine our expenses as fixed versus variable we will be able to adjust our budget according to our income and different considerations. In order to do that, however, you need to first track your spending. This can mean good ol’ paper and pen, actually learning to use Excel (and not just putting it on your application), or using apps (try www.mint.com). And through it all just keep in mind your wants and needs. Here at Stony Brook, we’re all about work hard, play hard, so remember to account for the fun stuff too!