Financial Tips for College Students – 23 Pros Share Their Wisdom

Learning how to ‘adult’ can be hard.

From figuring out your career path to accepting the stark realization that your mother won’t book all of your appointments anymore, there is a whirlwind of change and uncertainty.

For the most part this sort of change is good; anything that makes a person get outside of their comfort zone and grow can be incredibly beneficial.

Sure, every young adult or college student will make mistakes along the way, but this is generally part of the learning process…you don’t study thoroughly enough and you fail an exam, so you study harder next time…you drink too much and Tequila, realize that there are indeed some things worse than death, and you never do that again. That kind of thing.

However if there is one thing you don’t want to learn through trial and error it is financial management.

There is a criminal lack of financial education in most countries, and many young adults and students are not equipped to make wise financial decisions for themselves throughout college or upon landing their first job. Additionally, young adults are prone to making the sort of financial decisions that can negatively impact their well-being for the rest of their life (or for many, many years).

I’ve made my share of financial mistakes throughout college and now that I’m working full-time. However, I’ve also been fortunate enough to have a certified financial planner in my immediate family who has helped keep me on track and share some wisdom.

In an effort to help share some valuable knowledge, I decided to reach out to the RockStar Finance community for some insight on must-know financial tips for college students and young adults.

The 3 Questions I Asked + The RockStar Finance Community:

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RockStar Finance is a collection of some of the best financial articles on the web, and it is also home to an active community of immensely hard-working, talented, and successful people from all walks of life who have an interest in finance and money.

To round-up some financial tips for college students, I asked the community 3 questions:

  1. If you could go back in time to when you were in college/ a young adult, what is one piece of financial advice you would give yourself?
  2. What is the biggest financial mistake/regret of your young adult life?
  3. What is the greatest financial triumph or success story from your young adult life.

Let’s see what everyone had to say!

The Top Financial Tips for College Students/Young Adults:

Jerry at Peerless Money Mentor:

1: If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to listen to my frugal father’s advice about money. When I was growing up, he would always lecture me about the importance of stealth wealth. But I ignored his advice because I wanted to fit in with my peer group, and that’s why I ended up in the not so secret group of Broke Phi Broke. I wish I would have had the courage to be peerless sooner.

2: My biggest financial mistake regret of my young adult life was purchasing a brand new $23,000 car that was almost equal to my yearly salary. While I am not a fan of the advice of purchasing a bucket, I should have bought a cheaper vehicle. The money I spent on this foolish purchase could have gone towards paying off my student loans sooner.

3: The biggest triumph of my adult life was waking up to the idea that I could learn how to master my money. If you are a young adult, I would encourage you to spend at least 30 minutes a day learning how to manage your finances. Becoming financially woke will allow you to take the necessary steps toward building your wealth and growing your legacy!

Michael at Your Money Geek:

1: Advice: Don’t go into unnecessary debt for college, expensive schools won’t help your career as much as hard work will. Instead of burying yourself with mountains of student loans, go to a less expensive school, volunteer, get involved in extracurricular events, and focus on getting excellent grades.

2: I wish I hit the gym more in college, life only gets busier and busier you have to get into a habit of working out.

3: I bought a motorcycle in college, I still have it and it collects dust in the barn with other pre-children relics. Saving money is great, but life is about balance and you need to spend some and enjoy some. To paraphrase Ben Stien ” A cheeseburger really does taste better when you’re 18.”

Brandon from Brandon Renfro:

1: I would have saved money that I made my senior year and summer after high school. Instead, I blew it all on food and non-necessities for college.

2: I bought some vacant land thinking I would build a house on it. I overestimated how interested I would be in building a house. Definitely wish I had just bought a house. I ended up holding that land and paying the note for several years before I sold it.

3: I bought a foreclosure as my first home. We were able to get quite a bit of equity out of the renovations. In hindsight I would have started younger and did it a few times before I had kids and stability became such a concern.

Olivia from Happy In The Hollow:

1: Don’t just save, invest! I was quite good at saving any money I earned, but I hadn’t quite grasped the concept of going beyond just a savings account to take advantage of compound interest.

2: During college, I had a translation job that was a little inconvenient to get to but paid really well. I only went a couple of times before ditching it. I should have committed to spending several hours there once a week for a few semesters and taken advantage of this great opportunity.

3: I didn’t know anything about building credit, but due to dumb luck I accepted a credit card offer from my college’s bookstore. It never occurred to me not to pay it off every month, and so I started building a solid credit history and score long before I otherwise would have.

Robbie from Eat Money:

1: This biggest piece of advice I’d give myself would be to push yourself. I can’t really speak of one accomplishment I had prior to having kids. Since I have had kids I’ve obtained my MBA, moved up in my company and have committed to a long term side hustle.

2: The biggest financial mistake I’ve made is not getting involved more in the personal finance community earlier in life. For the longest time I thought Dave Ramsey was the answer to everything finance related. It turns out that was a great start but just the tip of the iceberg!

3: My biggest triumph has been dominating my debt early on. I still have some debt left but paid off about 40k in a few years. Took a ton of sacrifice but was definitely worth it.

Scott from Making Momentum:

1: Build Up That Foundation Of Financial Knowledge: From credit cards and student loans to investing and spending more efficiently, I needed a Personal Finance 101 lesson during my post-secondary education. I would tell myself to read Your Money or Your Life and The Millionaire Next Door to get that foundation of financial knowledge started. Those two books alone at an impressionable time would’ve set me up for much smarter decisions in my late-teens and 20’s.

2: Develop A Better Balance Of Work & Save vs. Work & Play: By no means would I want to have lived a life of total deprivation at that fun, adventurous time of my life. I had some amazing experiences and wouldn’t change them. However, one mistake I made is that I truly needed a better mindset around working hard and saving instead of working hard and playing. I was too reliant on student loans and credit cards to cover my education while the money I earned instead covered the inflated lifestyle of expenses not truly delivering any value.

3: Explored The World: On the contrary to the point above, the biggest triumph I had as a young adult was exploring the world with some epic (and frugal) trips, including a 3-month backpacking experience In Europe. I did this at a time when I was free enough of real world responsibilities to take advantage of the opportunity and gain major lifelong rewards. The lessons, maturity gained and amazing experiences were worth every penny even though it set me back financially in the overall picture.

Alexander from Day Tradingz:

1: If I could go back in time, I would suggest myself “start a finance blog as soon as possible” and “get out of any stock investments before the dot-com bubble burst”.

2: The biggest financial mistake regret of my young adult life was saving the money for the inspection for my car that led to this unfavorable motor damage. This was such a great car…

3: The biggest triumph of my young adult life was, that I always had a good savings rate and that I started investing in pension funds right at the beginning of my career.

Marc from Vital Dollar:

1: Don’t follow the crowd. Most people make poor financial decisions. If you want to be in a better financial position than others, you need to make your own decisions and be willing to do what other people are not.

2: My biggest financial mistake was relying on a job to be the solution to my financial issues. The first few years after college, I bounced around to a few different jobs. I never found one that I liked or one the gave me the career growth potential that I was looking for, so my solution was always to look for a better job. It wasn’t until I started my own business that my financial situation truly improved, and I wish I would have done that a few years earlier.

3: My biggest financial triumph was starting my own business. It began as a side hustle, but after 1.5 years I was able to quit my job and pursue my business full-time. That’s made a huge difference in my financial situation.

K. Duffey from Next Level Finance:

1: My advice to a college / recent graduate would be to focus on your career. Don’t be so quick to try to jump into an entrepreneurial space. Don’t be so disinterested in learning from your peers and learning from your work environment. Put your head down, work hard, ask questions, learn from others, meet lots of people.

2: My biggest mistake was leaving my first job after 18 months because I was antsy to “do more” – Being 23 years old is so young. You literally have decades of a career left. Don’t be in such a rush. Take it in and learn. Leaving my first job so quickly cost me both money and experience.

3: My biggest financial triumph was just living below my means and not being influenced by others who were spending all their money (and some on credit cards) going out more, traveling, etc. While I didn’t make that much money in my early 20s, I was still able to begin saving money in a 401k and in Roth accounts. Live below your means regardless of age and income.

Riley from Young and the Invested:

1: I wouldn’t sweat going to a private school thinking it would get me any added advantages in the working world. At the end of the day, unless you’re competing for a job at a top tech, consulting, or financial firm, a degree from mega-state university will be just as good (but cheaper) than private liberal arts college.

2: While I would make the same decision again if given the chance to go back, I passed up on a chance to study abroad for 6 months during my junior year of college. I would have immersed myself in Mexican culture and learned Spanish to the extent I’d be comfortable holding conversations in the language. However, doing so would have delayed my graduation by at least a year and resulted in $35,000+ in student loans. Which leads me to my last response.

3: Managing to avoid student loans as part of my undergraduate and graduate education. I can see how my peers have been impacted in their ability to save for a down payment on a house or even common expenses. Their budgets require a mandatory allotment toward repaying their student loans for the foreseeable future. Not having this debt has given me a great advantage early in life and makes me proud of my hustle to avoid taking on student loans to finance my education.

Andrew from Wealthy Nickel:

1: You will never have more free time in life than when you’re in college or just starting your career. I wish I would have experimented with side hustles / entrepreneurial ventures early on when the stakes were low and I had plenty of time. Now with a family, it’s still possible, but everything happens slower.

2: I was raised on the typical personal finance advice of saving 15% of your income so that’s what I did. I had a good job and extra money I wasn’t spending, but I wish I had put more of it into my 401k and IRA to give it longer to compound.

3: I think I did a good job of living like a college student even after college. I didn’t upgrade my car, I lived in a very reasonably-priced apartment with a roommate, and I focused on paying off my school debt rather than inflating my lifestyle to fit my peers.

Robyn from A Dime Saved:

1: If you could go back in time to when you were in college/ a young adult, what is one piece of financial advice you would give yourself?
Save more smartly. I worked to pay for college (besides for scholarships) and graduate school so I didn’t have so much extra money to save but I would tell my younger self to take any extra money and start saving and investing as early as possible. I was nervous that I would need my money so I used to keep large amounts of money in my checking account instead of opening some good investment accounts. Save more. Save early.

2: I’m not sure if this goes into finance but I regret getting my MBA. I should have gone for a more marketable degree and worked for a few years in a field before pursuing a graduate degree. I was so motivated to “finish school” that I didn’t stop to think if it was really worth it.

3: Graduating with no student loan debt! I had help- I lived at my parents while I was school which saved A LOT of expenses, and I went to in-state schools and was very price-conscious when choosing a school, but I worked really hard to make my tuition payments and pay for books. I sacrificed a lot but I am so grateful that I was able to do that.

Millionaire Mob:

1: I would have gone to an in-state college and avoided paying significant sums of money for tuition. This really took a few years for me to crawl out of and start taking my net worth to the next level.

2: I worked at a large public company that offered a stock purchase plan. I was buying the stock at a 15% discount to market value. I maxed this out and the company eventually went under. My retirement portfolios took a huge hit.Biggest financial triumph of your young adult life.

3: Saving early and consistently investing. I’ve been maxing out my 401(k) since I started out of undergraduate school. In addition, I’m grateful that I paid off all of my student loans while buying a condo. I’m so thankful for doing that now. It’s given me a lot of flexibility for where to put my money now.

Time In The Market:

1: The amount of free time I wasted in college is mind boggling. It’s tough to look back and say I would do it different because my motivation back then was a lot different. However, if I had a chance, I’d tell myself to focus more on things that would help me grow as a person in the long run instead of playing video games all the time. This is a time where learning about something is as easy as it’s ever been. You can learn more from online courses than most people learned in their lives as recently as a few decades ago. Stuff like that will really put you ahead of others who aren’t going out of their way to better themselves.

2: My biggest financial mistake is not investing more when I was young. The power of compound interest is huge if you start as early as 16 when you can get your first job. Open a Roth IRA and put away a part of your salary into a stock index fund. Don’t forget to spend a little bit too because you’re 16 and life is meant to be enjoyed.

3: Biggest financial triumph was finishing school with no loans. I think people overvalue degrees at certain schools that are just too expensive. There are a few schools and certain majors where a degree from a certain school will hold a lot of weight but in a good majority of cases, going to a local state school and saving a ton of money can be better to your financial future than anything else you do. It’s all about picking the right major and the right school for that major. You don’t need to spend $200k for 4 years in school if there’s no reasonable way to get a high paying job after that.

Wealthy Doc:

1: Have some awesome experiences. Travel and meet people. It is cheap to do it now and much more costly later in life.

2: I bought individual stocks and panicked after they crashed. I sold them at the bottom. I shouldn’t have bought individual stocks in the first place.

3: Becoming completely debt-free was a great achievement. It was hard. It took courage. More than any other move it provided options for my life.

Financial Pilgrimage:

1: For three years after college I lived with three other guys for three years. We rented a duplex together. If I was smart I could have saved up enough to buy a duplex and house hacked. That would have been a great way to start building wealth at an early age.

2: Not taking personal finance seriously until almost 30 years old. We were nearly $200,000 in debt (about half mortgage debt) at age 29 when we finally realized that we needed to make changes.

3: Not giving into lifestyle inflation. Even though we were racking up debt with student loans and car payments, we still lived reasonable which allowed us to tackle our debt aggressively once my wife graduated and got a teaching job.

Enoch from Savvy New Canadian:

1: I would advise myself to be more focused, to stay the course and see projects through to the end before embarking on others. I had a very short attention span as a college student and spent considerable sums of money trying out new business ideas. Some of these projects were worthwhile and I would have achieved greater success if I had stuck with them till they bore fruit.

2: My biggest financial regret was falling for “get rich quick” investing schemes. I wasted thousands of dollars attending traders “universities” and courses that promised to reveal the “Holy Grail” for successfully investing in the financial markets. It took a while for me to realize that the only money these so-called trading gurus were making was the one that unsuspecting people like me were paying them.

3: The biggest financial triumph of my young adult life was getting an education. I worked hard and paid my dues, and it has paid off financially and otherwise.

PFI from Principal F.I:

1: It seems boring, but it will really matter: As soon as you start work, set up your 401k/403b immediately, even if it’s just a small amount. Increase it each year when you get a raise. You will thank your younger self when you’re older. I wish I’d done this – I’d be financially independent already!

2: My wife and I took out extra student loans to finance travel. Travel is, and always will be, an important part of our life. But, we could have done it more cheaply and should have done it without taking on debt.

3: My biggest triumph was picking the right partner early on. Though we didn’t nail our finances early (as evidenced by my answers to #1 and 2), we’ve always shared the same goals and values. Divorce is expensive and an aligned marriage is a game-changer.

Patrice from Financial Peacock:

1: Do not open any credit cards until you are out of school and have a full-time job. Once you do have a credit card, pay off the balance in full every month. Do not accumulate credit card debt!

2: I didn’t follow my advice and I racked up a lot of credit card debt. Then I had the brilliant idea of taking out student loans to pay off the credit card debt…which I didn’t do so then I had even more debt.

3: I worked hard and took any job I could get knowing I would prove myself and work my way up in a company. This hard work led to a job offer by a former manager at a start-up company that provided stock options that eventually paid off my debt. The advice here is not to work at a start-up, but to work hard and don’t consider any job “beneath” you as your hard work will be recognized and rewarded.

Margot from Mortgage Burning Party

1: If you earn any income in your college days, open a Roth IRA, put in as much money as you can spare (even if it’s just $100 per year), invest it in an index fund (VTI at Vanguard, ITOT at Fidelity etc) and consider that money off limits forever. Add money when you can.

2: Buying a new car. Do not buy a new car. If you think you must buy a new car, buy a 1 year old car. You won’t know the difference, but your wallet will!

3: I started investing in a 401(k) at my first job was I was 18 and have enrolled in a 401(k) at every job where I was offered one after that.

Simon from Money Pedals:

1: I would invest more time in my financial education. If I could invest half of the time I invested in physics and chemistry into my financial education, I am certain that I would be better off financially.
During my college days, I rented a big apartment and bring in lots of friends who looks up-to me for food. I wasted quite a bit of money before I realized that most of them have money, they are just pretending.

2: I made quite some money while I was in college. Someone told me to buy a piece of land close to my hostel. I had the money but taught that what do I need a land for? About a year later, government acquired most of the land in the area excluding that land. The value of that land skyrocket to about 30x within 2 years. And still keep increasing till today. Every time I drive by the place, I always remember not closing the deal.

3: Starting my own business and spending time on my financial goals. This is moving me towards my financial goals very fast.

Lilly from Merry for Money:

1: I chose not to go to a state college or university! They’re called “UCs” in California. I went to a small private school for all four years when I could have just done the community college thing and transferred. That could have saved me at least $10,000!

2: I wish I was a little braver and a little more mature. I was the only two girls in a class of 30 something guys at a small college. Our major was Computer Science (5-year program for a Masters). We were both intimidated and felt out of place since Day 1. We were both away from home and it was scary as 18-year-old girls who were used to having a set group of friends all their life. When I met my first group of college friends…wouldn’t ya know it, I wanted to hang out with them and have the same professors and schedules as they did. They looked like they had their dreams all sketched out and I was all over the place. I wish I had stuck in for a 5 year Masters degree! That’s a great deal now that I think back on it!

3: Besides paying back $20,000 worth of student loans in just 8 months, I did realize that even without debt looming that I was a natural saver. I don’t have to fight myself to budget or save and I was more than willing to sacrifice in order to save more whereas some people will never take those choices.

Fehmeen from Top Money Hacks:

1: If I could go back and give myself financial advice, I’d tell myself to not take anything for granted and hustle away like my life depends on it. I would tell myself that my frugal habits, although often mocked by peers, would be ultra useful in the future. Lastly, I would tell myself to start investing in stocks because it’s not as scary a task as I thought.

2: My biggest regret is that I turned down promising career opportunities because I wanted things on my terms. I could have showed some flexibility back then…

3: My biggest financial triumph is that I was interested in writing articles for local newspapers and saved all that money. It wasn’t much but I took pride in making an income and tucking it away for the future.

Some Final Thoughts:

And there you have it!

I’d like to thank the 23 members of the RockStar Finance community who helped contribute to this post.

There are certainly some commonalities between the bits of wisdom that I noticed: begin budgeting early, start a side hustle in your spare time, don’t overspend, and never feel as if you have to conform to lifestyle creep and spend money as fast as you make it.

Hopefully this list of financial tips helps set you off on the right path!

Catch you guys in the next post,

Tom.

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Tom,
Thanks for putting this together and for the opportunity to participate.

Great list.
Thanks for including me.
I will share it.

This is full of great advice! Thanks for including my tips.

Mike Denver

Fantastic list of great pieces of advice. Thank you, Tom.