Reader Q&A: Three Skills to Master in College?

If any of you are hitting high school and/or college this week, this post is for you. If you’re a dinosaur like me and that ship has long sailed, don’t worry, you’ll still need to pay attention for your future kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids. We’ll never stop learning and teaching :)

Here’s the email that came in, followed by my response below it:

Yo J$,

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 size 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 me to do so well. I’d have to say it boils down to three skills for me, if you can call them that. They are:

  1. The discipline to save 10% of everything I made for emergencies
  2. The discipline to give 10% of everything I made to those less fortunate
  3. Being able to distinguish (most of the time) between wants and needs

With school just about to start back up, I was wondering what’s your take on the top three personal finance skills you would recommend that college students try to master?

Hey man, congrats! Just the fact you’re *thinking* of money in college is pretty amazing to be honest with you. It took me like 5 years after to start ;)

I think during all schooling the most important part is just getting into the habit of tracking where all your money goes – both in and out – and getting a good rhythm down so that when you get your first “real” job and start making tons more you’ll already know what to do. And really whether you make $300/mo or $300,000 a month, it’s all the same for managing. So keep paying attention and working on those %’s with what goes where so as your $ scales it’ll continue being easy and smooth for ya.

Other than that, make sure to have FUN and soak up the entire experiences of school too because socializing and networking can be is just as important in general life. Once it’s all over you’re plopped into a sea of old farts like me for the rest of your life and you’ll soon realize how good you had it ;) Albeit with much smoother networking skills.

So keep it up! You’re already ahead of 90% of your peers.

What 3 personal finance skills do you guys think are important? I obviously went a little off track from the reader’s original question :)

Photo by NazarethCollege

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  1. Aimee August 30, 2013 at 6:37 AM


    #3 is super important, and difficult to think about when you’re in college. I think all I’d add to that for a college student is to stay away from credit cards for anything that isn’t an actual emergency, and if you’re a student loan kid like me then make sure the cost of your college is something that is POSSIBLE to pay back with your degree/career choice.

    1. J. Money August 31, 2013 at 9:42 AM

      Haha yup! I remember my parents telling me “emergencies only!” and then they’d magically see the bill and find snacks or movies on it and call me out on it, haha… “Umm…. it was an emergency! I had a hot date!” ;)

  2. Brian August 30, 2013 at 8:48 AM

    # 3 is huge at a young age. It’s too easy to get into the frame of mind that you’re salary will be increasing coming out of college and you begin to make big ticket purchases.

    Here are my top 3:
    Discipline to live within your means
    Planning -Budgeting
    learning to say “No”

    1. J. Money August 31, 2013 at 9:43 AM

      If you can pull off living within your means, and that’s it, you’d be rockin’ it forever :)

  3. Debt Blag August 30, 2013 at 9:07 AM

    Just two things I think will serve that reader well:

    1. Don’t inflate your lifestyle just because you’re making money instead f spending it on tuition. Your youth is a great time to start investing and to jump start your career. Focus on and learn as much as possible about both of these.

    2. Roth IRA. Max it. Your tax rate will never be this low and you’ll have tons of time for your investments in a Roth to grow

  4. The College Investor August 30, 2013 at 12:15 PM

    Nice job on making it through college with money in the bank! That takes skills.

    My challenge would be:
    1. Ensure there is no student loan debt, and if there is, pay it off as quickly as possible
    2. Nail the personal finance basics by tracking everything and getting started with software like Quicken early on
    3. Starting investing – a Roth IRA first, then a regular investment account.

    Good luck!

    1. J. Money August 31, 2013 at 9:47 AM

      I’d imagine #1 would be hard to do though while IN college ;) Unless you hustle your ass off outside of classes and all the activities/clubs/networking/parties which I wouldn’t personally suggest. A side job to help w/ money is def. good, but might be a lot maxing out hours to graduate w/ no debt.

  5. EL @ August 30, 2013 at 12:17 PM

    I think the most important thing is to find an internship for the field of study you are in, it will open up the doors to immediate employment right after you graduate. The second thing is make sure that you are getting a degree in something you will love doing for a long time. Third thing is to master the ins and outs of the field you are getting a degree in.

    1. J. Money August 31, 2013 at 9:48 AM

      YES 100% to internships!! Whether paid or not. Best way to learn and get experience right away in the “real” world. Great addition.

  6. No Waste August 30, 2013 at 1:32 PM

    Delayed gratification.

    Learn it and you will do well.

  7. Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen August 30, 2013 at 9:30 PM

    Wow I’m pretty amazed at your reader’s progress already! They’ve got a very good head start on everyone else.

    Hmmm…for me I’d say
    -Being able to track where your money goes
    -Steadily saving for retirement
    -Spending less than you earn

  8. GB @ In Budgets We Trust September 1, 2013 at 2:59 AM

    This reader is on point, which is really refreshing. For college students, I’d recommend:

    1. Mastering YOLO / FOMO syndrome. Not every outing or quintessential experience has to be expensive. Spending an afternoon on the lawn/quad or even a house party can be just as awesome as heading out to a bar.
    2. Live with roommates before AND after college. Just because you’re able to afford a place on your own doesn’t meant that’s the best use of your money. If you’re rdnting, it’s paramount to a lost investment.
    3. Buy a used car instead of a new car…and don’t finance above your means. You’ll easily save thousands of dollars by buying used, but know your budget and safe monthly payments before you even start looking. Also, if you live in a city with decent public transportation, nix the car entirely because you’ll likely pay more to park and maintain it than you would on gas every month. Search for services like ZipCar that will let you affordably rent and drop off vehicles when you need it.

    1. J. Money September 3, 2013 at 1:41 PM

      Great ones :) Esp the quad/lawn idea – one of my favorite things to do back in the day!!

  9. Mark Ross September 1, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    I’m in college now, so the the three challenges/things I want to achieve are as follow:

    1. To pass and to graduate
    2. To save money for my life after college
    3. To have fun

    Simple, right? :)

    1. J. Money September 3, 2013 at 1:42 PM

      Oh yeah. The 3 I mastered myself :) Great ones.

  10. Cassi September 1, 2013 at 4:38 PM

    I started college a week ago! Right now I’m freaking out about how I am going to pay off the $4000 bill my college wants from me by November, and then again in the spring. I have a plan for every year after that, I just need to get over this bump in the road first. Reading all the comments is amazing! I will figure out how to get past this. I’m determined to!

    1. Aimee September 2, 2013 at 3:34 PM

      Hi Cassi!

      I love your planning! You may be aware of this, but there may be federal loans available that don’t accrue interest while you’re in school. While debt is no fun, you could take on modest interest-free debt for the first 2 bills and factor paying these off before they’re due into your plan. I say these loans “may” be available because I’m not 100% savvy on how the federal student loans changed recently. The ones I have from years ago were interest free until I graduated. I’d say look into the federal loans so you know how to go about getting them if you have to.

      1. J. Money September 3, 2013 at 1:43 PM

        Thx for helping Aimee :)

        We believe in you Cassi!! Being in debt will only be a phase and you’ll be out and rewarded with the fruits of your labor in no time! (Man I sound like a “dad”, sorry :))


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