While attending Rutgers University, I worked full-time at Newark Airport making $30,000 a year. My lack of financial knowledge, however, set me on the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle before I was 20. When I look back in my college years, I can clearly see the financial mistakes I’ve made. These mistakes caused a great deal of debt-related stress and cost me thousands of dollars.
Today, I’m considered highly educated with my bachelor’s in Finance and Masters in Business Administration. The airport lounges I used to clean are lounges I now frequent. I went from financially illiterate to a personal finance expert.
We all make mistakes. Some of us more often than others. I’m sharing the mistakes I made while in college so you can avoid the financial troubles that it creates.
Financial Mistake #1
I maxed out on student loans. Since I didn’t have to pay back the loans until after graduation, I looked at student loans as free money. It was something I didn’t have to think about. I used the student loans to pay for tuition and my paycheck on partying. The $30,000 in student loans I carried was costly. In retrospect, I didn’t need to take that much in student loans since I worked. Unfortunately, back then, I didn’t understand the financial decision I was making.
What you can do: Don’t max out your student loans and make small payments while in college with any money you make. With loans, you have now, consider consolidating or refinancing your student loans.
Financial Mistake #2
I got my first credit card on campus without understanding how it worked. I wanted a frisbee a bank rep was giving away. All I had to do was ink my signature on the dotted line. A couple of weeks later, I received my first credit card in the mail. To this day, I can’t remember what I bought with that credit card but I remember the frisbee. This is the financial frisbee story I shared in my book You Only Live Once.
What you can do: Establish your credit with a secured credit card or start with a credit-builder account. Too much credit card debt? Consider consolidating credit cards into one loan.
Financial Mistake #3
I had a checking account and debit card that I didn’t understand. I paid monthly fees and a good amount of ATM surcharges. I also chose not to have a direct deposit because I liked holding the paycheck. Consequently, I would go to the supermarket to cash my paycheck for a fee. I thought cash was better with me than in a bank account, but I’d spend money faster than I made it.
What you can do: Evaluate your existing banking relationships. Consider opening new banking accounts that offers services like surcharge-free ATM access, mobile access, and deposit features, and even better get an account that earns interest.
Financial Mistake #4
As a financially illiterate 20-year old, I wanted to reward myself for all the work at school and job. I was feeling stressed from work and classes. Against my parents’ advice, I bought a brand new BMW. It was a great car but remains one of the biggest financial mistakes I’ve made as a young adult. If you’re a working college student with a history of on-time payments, you can get approved for an auto loan. Just because you are approved doesn’t mean you should take the loan. My monthly payments including my auto insurance could have covered my tuition payments.
What you can do: If in need of a car, buy a used car instead. Research a car that fits your needs, not show off a lifestyle. And whenever possible make additional payments to pay off the auto loan quicker.
What financial mistakes have you made while in college?