Welcome freshmen and returning students! I’m pleased to announce the addition of “Common Cents,” a column devoted to personal finance, for the readers of The Mercury. Whether you’re a freshman or a senior, it’s never too early or too late to start thinking about your personal finances.
I know what you may be thinking — “Personal finance is not something I care about right now. I’ll worry about it when I’m out of college with a job and living on my own.” Before you stop reading, consider these statistics:
• 62 percent of graduates from public universities will graduate with an average of $20,200 in student loan debt, which will take more than 10 years to pay off.
• 45 percent of college students have four or more credit cards. The average student’s credit card debt is more than $3,000.
• Students and graduates between ages 18 and 24 spend nearly 30 percent of their monthly income just on debt repayment.
• The number of 18- to 24-year-olds declaring bankruptcy has increased by 96 percent in the past 10 years.
• 50.8 percent of college-age adults agree with this statement: “I have experienced repeated, unsuccessful attempts to control, cut back or stop excessive money use.”
Do you still think this column doesn’t apply to you? Consider this: The average 21-year-old in the United States — that’s you — will spend more than $2.2 million in his or her lifetime. Of that statistic, nearly 30 percent will go to debt repayment, that’s roughly $660,000. Start practicing good financial habits now and think of what you could buy with that extra $660,000!
Over the course of this semester I’ll cover personal finance issues that are unique to college students. We’ll discuss tuition and financial aid, the use of student loans, credit cards, your credit score, ways to manage your spending habits and many other topics.
It hasn’t been that long since I was in college and I know first-hand how important it is to begin making good financial decisions now. As the first member of my family to graduate from college, I put myself through school working 40 hours a week and attending classes full time. While I was a student, there were times that I thought I had my finances all figured out and there were times that I struggled.
I was one of those 62 percent of students who graduated with student loan debt, and after we graduated, my wife and I were among those who spent nearly 30 percent of our monthly income on debt repayment. My experiences with my own finances are what encouraged me to study financial planning and what gave me the passion to pass the financial literacy lessons that I have learned on to you.
Since it wasn’t that long ago that I was right where you are, I want to conclude this column with a few personal spending tips from my own college experiences to help you get the semester started on the right foot:
• Instead of buying your textbooks, consider renting or using e-books.
• You don’t need a top-of-the-line computer or laptop to succeed in college. The cheaper models will do everything you need them to do and there’s always the computer lab.
• Bring drinks and snacks with you to campus. You would be amazed how much you can save by not using vending machines. Similarly, set your alarm 10 minutes earlier in the morning and make your own coffee!
• Use your financial aid check for educational purposes only. You are more likely to get into larger amounts of debt if you get into the habit of using that money for personal expenses.
• Most importantly, don’t stress over money. Start making wise decisions now and enjoy your time in college!
About the Author
Jared Pickens is a senior lecturer in finance and the associate director of finance for the School of Management at UTD. He has bachelors and masters degrees in personal financial planning and is a certified financial planner™ practitioner and an accredited financial counselor. He practiced financial planning for four years and has been teaching classes in personal and corporate finance since August 2009. Throughout his career, Pickens has given more than 250 presentations and speeches discussing personal finance topics across the United States. He is also an active member of the Financial Planning Association of Dallas/Fort Worth. Pickens has been married to his wife, Kimberly, for five years, and they are expecting their first son, Cohen, in September.