Last Friday, J.D. asked you what concepts have contributed to your financial success, and you responded with lots of good thoughts. Today, reader D. Post has a question for you about personal finance skills college students should learn. Here’s his situation:
GRS, I’ve just about made it through college and am about to start my senior year! I’ve had a fun time at school and still have a good-sized chunk of change in the bank, something that makes me think I’ve got this whole money thing down pretty well.
I’ve been thinking lately about my money and what led to me to do so well with it. I’d have to say it boils down to three skills for me, if you can call them that. They are:
• The discipline to save 10 percent of everything I made for emergencies
• The discipline to give 10 percent of everything I made to those less fortunate
• Being able to distinguish (most of the time) between wants and needs
With school just starting, I was wondering what’s your take on the top three personal finance skills you would recommend college students try to master?
D. Post seems to be off to a good start, especially since he has cash in the bank. He didn’t mention having a credit card, and I would suggest that learning how to manage credit cards responsibly while in college is a good thing to do. I know this is controversial, but I think managing a credit card and building a credit history at a young age is his next step – before his expenses increase and he might be tempted to get into debt with a credit card to cover them. Understanding the cost (interest rate) of borrowing money on a credit card versus the interest a savings or money market account pays is a basic concept that anyone using a credit card needs to keep in mind.
Another important personal finance skill is saving for retirement. As soon as D. Post gets a job and has the option to put money into a 401(k) or other retirement account, especially if there’s an employee match (free money!), he should do it.
In July, we heard from a reader who at 25 made retirement saving his first priority. Saving early will take the pressure off later, leading to freedom to make career and life choices. If you save $5,000 a year in a retirement account earning 8 percent interest starting in your 20s, you’ll have over a million dollars by the time your retirement rolls around. Start saving that much in your 30s and you’ll have half that amount for retirement.
So, what else should college students learn before they graduate?