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What I Wish I Would’ve Known: Financial Wellness as a Freshman

Coming to college for the first time was nerve-racking and exciting all at once. As a first-generation college student, I was eager to experience a new level of independence! I came to campus with a ton of questions. Throughout my four years as an undergraduate student I stumbled my way through and learned quite a bit on the way. I graduated four years ago. Living now as a young adult there is so much that I wish I could tell my freshman self, specifically about financial wellness. Here are my top 4 tips for setting yourself up for financial wellness as a college freshman.

1.       Do Make Plans for the Money You Have

One thing I did well as a student was learn the skill of making my money stretch. I worked throughout my time in college to make some money. While I was no millionaire, I was able to have a good time with my new friends and create some amazing memories. It was during this time, that I learned to use money as a resource. As a student I had to be very clear about making a plan for the limited dollars I was working with. While I didn’t call it “budgeting” at the time, that was exactly what I was doing. I wish I could go back in time and applaud myself for it. I did not know that the skills I honed while I was earning money as a student would assist me in financial planning now. Take note of your positive financial habits as a college freshman and build on those skills!

2.       Don’t Overuse Your Credit Card

One of the first things I did when I came to campus was open a student credit card. This is often the first-time young adults begin their credit journey: on campus. I’m happy that I did it. Simply having a history of credit is a portion of your score. However, I definitely abused the card at the start. Suddenly, the card afforded me the ability to purchase items a bit out of my price range. However, the rate of my spending, did not match my ability to pay off these items with my part-time student job. My advice? Live within your means and only use your credit card for items that you can pay off quickly. This way, you can minimize how much debt you accumulate over time.

3.       Don’t Wait to Start Saving

When I speak with incoming freshman students now, many are hesitant to open up a savings account. I was the same as a college student. I didn’t think I had enough money to even think about saving anything. There are a lot of suggestions surrounding how much an individual should have in savings. Honestly, I found all of the “shoulds” intimidating. I didn’t realize the impact that small actions could have over time. I often find myself wishing that I had started to save a little bit sooner. I wish I could’ve told myself then that simply starting save bit by bit would have been okay! Start funding your savings by cutting costs where you can and putting away unexpected funds for a rainy day.

4.       Do Give Yourself Some Grace

One of the most important things I would tell my freshman year self is to not be so hard on myself concerning finances. Managing money can be extremely stressful. Finances have so many emotional and social ties. I felt anxious worrying about money while also adjusting to my new journey as a college student. I felt guilty when I made financial decisions that I knew I would regret. While it is impossible to expect that these feelings can be totally avoided, I wish I could tell myself to be more forgiving of myself. Mistakes happen. Allow yourself to feel but don’t let that discourage you to the point that you stop making an attempt to grow. Learning to manage your money often takes trial and error! Give yourself the space to grow in your financial wellness during your time as a college student.