Smart Money: Personal Finance Tips and Education for Students

Heading off to college is an awesome time in life. You’ll be learning new things, meeting new people and having new experiences. It’s a moment of great freedom where you’re finally allowed to do your own thing. But in that newfound freedom lies all sorts of pitfalls that could derail your education and even impact the rest of your life. Money is one of the biggest pitfalls and mishandling it can land you in all sorts of hot water. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some tips that will help you sidestep it.

1. Don’t Do Credit

When you hit campus for orientation, they’ll be waiting for you like sharks with the scent of blood in the water: credit card booths offering all sorts of freebies — from t-shirts to discounts — just for filling out an application. 

Resist the siren call. 

We know what you’re thinking; you can control yourself and you’ll earn mad points or score a free koozie. Here’s the truth: not even middle-aged adults can control themselves. A major study done at MIT concluded that, on average, people spend 12-18% more when they swipe their cards than when they watch their money leave their hands as cash (it also found that many spend up to 100% more). 

Stick with cash or, if you have to have one, use it only for emergencies.

2. Make a Spending Diary

The secret to controlling your finances (and having more money) is really simple. You’ve got to (1) be aware of where it’s going and (2) have control over it. That’s it. 

Here’s how you do that. 

First, you’re going to write down everything you spend for a month or two, from gas and fast food to bills and, well, whatever else. Even if it’s 3 cents, write it down. At the end of that time, you’re going to start seeing patterns. Where is your money going? Is it being spent in ways that really benefit you? Were those purchases worth it? Is there any area you’d like to spend less (or more)? Use the answers to these questions to create your spending plan.

3. Make a Spending Plan

A spending plan (some people call it a budget), is not a pair of financial handcuffs designed to ruin the party. It’s a way to help you achieve your goals, even if your goal is to have a party. You’ll use your spending diary to make categories, then set the amount you want to spend in each category. This doesn’t have to be a laborious endeavor. In fact, there are tons of apps out there now that nearly automate the process.

It’s a simple concept but it works like magic. Follow it and you’ll have more money at the end of the month and, more importantly, you’ll be spending your money in ways that actually work for you. 

4. Get an Education

Whether you’re getting a degree in finance or astrophysics, everyone needs education in personal finance. There are myriad ways to do this and they’re not labor-intensive or costly, but they will make a huge difference in your life, no matter what you choose to do with it. 

Need a primer on day-to-day personal financial management? Udemy has a free online class. Want to know how compound interest can make miracles with your money? Skillshare might be a good stop. Want to delve into investing? Coursera is a good landing spot. Need videos, courses and more on everything from the meaning of money to financial planning? has them all.  

Key Takeaway

Avoid pitfalls like credit cards, get yourself on a spending plan and learn a bit about personal finance — these are investments that will pay off for the rest of your life.