By the time this month is over, college will be starting for most students around the country. Last week, I reflected on my college years and 10 regrets I have about my financial life.
I realized it was a bit of a depressing list. While I encourage everyone to learn from their mistakes, I think we spend far too little time celebrating what we did right. We can build on these little victories, playing to our strengths and generating positive habits around what we know we can already do.
And so I came up with a new list, the “victories” from my college years. After reading my 10, let me know what you think you did well in college, and how that’s translated into better money habits after graduation. In the meantime, here are 10 victories I can claim:
- I didn’t own a car until senior year. I took the bus, the rail, or got a ride with a friend anywhere I needed to go. I even tried out a bike one year, but it was stolen within 2 days (go figure!). For the most part, I stuck to activities on campus, shopped online for anything I needed or wanted, and relied on my creativity to get me anywhere else.
- I joined a credit union. While I didn’t realize the awesome power of credit unions until years later, our local one happened to be the most conveniently accessible (and only) bank branch on campus, so that’s what I used. They charged me nothing and paid good rates.
- I tracked my spending with Quicken. Had it not been for Quicken (simpler software like Mint wasn’t even invented yet!), I don’t think I would have kept a very close eye on my cash flow. Instead, I planted what would be the seeds for my eventual deep interest in money.
- I used my meal plan most of the time. Without a car and an appetite for restaurant food, I stuck to eating on campus most of the time, using my pre-paid meal plan. There was plenty of variety to keep me interested, and very little extra money was ever spent on food.
- I bought used textbooks, using the local bookstore, connections on campus, and sites like Half.com. Once the semester was over, I again used Half.com to sell the textbooks I didn’t want to keep, and recovered a good part of my initial investment.
- I worked through breaks, usually doing quite a bit of overtime when I could. I used the rest of the free time to reset from classes and catch up on personal work. The money I put away during the few weeks of work was more than enough to use for splurges throughout the rest of the year.
- I lived with an ultra-frugal roommate. It’s true that you tend to be most like those closest to you. Since I lived with a roommate who always knew how to have fun for less and avoided spending like it was the plague, those habits rubbed off of me through the years.
- My primary focus was academics. It’s important to be well-balanced in college, with your fair share of a social life and personal pursuits. However, at rates that run into the $50K range per year for some schools, you need to realize why you’re there. In addition, going out all the time, drinking and other illegal pursuits can run your checking account into the ground.
- I started investing for retirement at 18. I was the odd man out among my friends, most of whom didn’t think about retirement until they hit their first job with a 401(k). With employers quickly removing benefits these days, I wonder if retirement will cross the minds of the next generation at all.
- I found a job I liked a stuck with it. The rewards for 4 years of service were multiple promotions, excellent pay for a college position, and a steady job experience I could show off to any potential employer.
Those are my 10. How about you? (Be sure to also check out my list of 10 regrets from college).