Nov 17 2011
As we move through life, we sometimes find ourselves thinking about what we would have done differently if given the chance to do it all over again. One area that I find I think about most is in relation to finances.
Although little can be done today about the what-if’s of yesterday, if I had the opportunity to teach my college self anything, it would have to do with how to better handle finances. It really is true that the decisions we make early in life, can have a major effect on how we live in the future.
Stay Out of Debt
The best piece of advice I would give to my college self would be to stay out of debt. It seems that college students are prime targets for credit card companies. The lure of easy money and the ability to purchase things without actually having to have the cash available to do so is a hard temptation to resist. If you must have a credit card, click here first to compare interest rates and terms.
Credit card debt, however, can lock you into years and years of increasing payments if it isn’t put under control immediately or better yet, not entered into at all. Many students today are leaving college with debt from both student loans and credit cards putting them already behind the 8-ball before they even earn their first real paycheck. Therefore, it’s important to steer clear of debt. Otherwise, you could find yourself spending the next decade or longer just trying to pay it off.
Start Saving Early
Although saving money is the furthest thing from most college students minds, it is essential to get into the good habit of setting at least some money aside on a regular basis. By initiating this habit early in life, it is likely that you will continue to practice good savings habits throughout your entire life. And this is essential if you want to live a comfortable lifestyle in retirement or even before.
Nobody ever said that you had to wait until you turn 65 to retire. And, by starting to save money early you could very well have the opportunity to retire at an age much younger than 65. A nice nest egg will give you the choice of how and where you want to live and the first step to getting there is to begin saving at an early age even while still in college.
Purchase a Home
As a college student, buying real estate was nowhere close to being on my radar screen. In fact, even the idea of renting a small apartment was iffy. Back in those days, though, it was certainly great to have my own place – even though, unfortunately, it really wasn’t my place.
The apartment I rented belonged to my landlord and that landlord collected rent from me, as well as all of his other tenants month after month after month. Because of that, I helped my landlord build equity in his property and to move closer to owning the property free and clear.
Over the years, I’ve realized that if only I had purchased my home earlier in life, I too would have equity built in that property and would likely be very close to owning the property free and clear.
One reason that many young people shy away from purchasing a home versus renting is that they feel they don’t have enough money saved for a down payment. But, with today’s first time home buyer deals, coupled with low interest rates, owning a home could be much easier than you think. If you are able to lock into a low fixed rate mortgage, you may even end up paying far less in mortgage payments than you would to rent an apartment that is owned by someone else!
For those who are in college today, the financial picture in the economy is far different than it was in the past. But there are still great opportunities out there to save and invest – while keeping yourself as far away as possible from debt.
When not writing finance articles for blogs and online publications George Gallagher helps graduates find student loan consolidation with not-for-profit credit unions.