Money Mic: What I Wish I Knew About Money Before I Went to College

Money Mic: What I Wish I Knew About Money Before I Went to College

altPeople have a lot of opinions about money.

In our “Money Mic” series, we hand over the podium to someone with a strong opinion on a financial topic. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses.

Today, one of LearnVest's summer interns explains what she learned about finances during her internship at LearnVest, and how she wishes she knew all that before she left for her freshman year of college last year.

Parents, take note ...

Before I started my internship at LearnVest, I always thought of money as something that's limiting: It limits the amount of trips you can go on, the number of meals you can eat in a restaurant and the type of clothing you can afford to buy. I've always been conscious of money, and only occasionally have suffered from shopper's regret.


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However, after my experience this summer, my perspective shifted completely.

Here's some of what I learned. (Hopefully these insights can help any kid about to set off for college, too ...)

Focus on What Matters to You

LearnVest taught me that money isn't necessarily something that limits you, but is something you can leverage to your advantage. You have the power to use it to get what you want out of life—if you budget and manage carefully, that is.

It's an empowering and confidence-boosting feeling to be in control of your own financial fate, but it's certainly one that comes with responsibility. Living on a budget means that every purchase is a trade-off. In college especially, you'll encounter people with all different financial situations, so it's important to keep sight of your own goals when it comes to money. You have to identify what really matters in your life and what will bring you happiness.

The Power of a Woman's World

After 13 years of attending a small all-girls school, I thought I would be jumping for joy at the opportunity to immerse myself in a fully co-ed world. But, when I started at LearnVest, I found myself once again in the woman's sphere, working for a company whose sole purpose was to empower women. My summer at LearnVest reinvigorated my firm belief in the power of a female-specific education and financial outlook. Women have innately different experiences in the workplace, different insecurities and different financial needs. We need something expressly by us, for us.

This translates to the college experience, too. While it’s obviously beneficial to connect with the entire student body, I would recommend that all women on a co-ed campus seek out some form of a female-specific support system. It could be a women-in-business organization, a choral group, a sorority or even a relationship with a female professor.

College Can Make or Break You, Financially

I was lucky enough that my parents could afford to pay for my college education. And, even more so, that my school offers robust financial aid. Because of this perk, none of my friends will graduate with student loan debt, but I realize that most graduates around the country won't be so fortunate. LearnVest taught me that, like with any financial investment, you have to do your research wisely in order for a college education to pay off—and, effectively, pay for itself.

During the application process, it's important to research available scholarships, financial aid, work-study programs, the best student loan rates (this will probably involve avoiding private student loans) and the value of your degree for the field you'll want to enter. (LearnVest has tons of paying-for-college resources, as well, like our What to Sock Away Calculator that helps you determine how much you'll need to save for your kid's college, or our conversation with a CFP® who answered the five most common paying-for-college questions.)

This also means making the most of your financial life while you're in college by sticking to a budget and avoiding credit card spending that can get you into serious debt.

Ask for What You Want

Over coffee, LearnVest CEO Alexa Von Tobel advised me to always ask for what I want, because no one is going to just hand it to me. The fact is, most women don’t do enough negotiating in the workplace, or don’t do it as effectively as their male colleagues. (We do, however, have stories of four real women who did ask, and received, a raise at their jobs. Find out how they did it.)

Administrators on a college campus are more likely to reward people who take initiative. It’s important to ask for what you want in order to make your mark on the school and the community. If there is something you want to do, join an organization and get involved. If that club doesn’t exist, create your own.

Don’t hold back, and tackle your passions head-on.

altAlexa Gellman was a summer editorial intern at Learnvest.  She is entering her sophomore year at Harvard University and is an editor of The Harvard Crimson.


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