It may sound counterintuitive, but managing your money gets easier the more you have. When you cross a certain income threshold, you can afford to pay a wealth management company to sweat the details. All you have to do is sit back and watch your money multiply.
For a broke college student, money management is a bit more hands-on. It’s important to start building a base of financial knowledge in early adulthood, but the resources at your disposal are limited. Unless you have wealthy parents bankrolling your expenses, you need to find free or cheap ways to start gaining financial literacy.
Thankfully, most universities are brimming with free financial resources for students – all you need to know is where to look. Here are a few options to get you started.
Take Personal Finance Classes
As a senior in college, I took a basic personal finance class offered through the business school. As the daughter of a CPA, I’d always had a passing interest in money management. The course taught me fundamentals like how to budget and how insurance works.
It was a helpful primer for life after college. Learning about what a deductible is and how 401(k)s work prepared me for my first post-grad job, giving me the tools to get the most out of my benefits package and entry-level income.
Many colleges offer introductory personal finance classes within the business school or finance department. Unlike other business-related courses, these classes are often open to non-business majors and usually don’t have any prerequisites.
These courses generally won’t count toward your major so consider it a fun elective to take if you have a free spot in your schedule. Some colleges only have one basic personal finance class, while others have several designed to be taken together.
These classes go through concepts like budgeting, debt management, insurance, taxes and investing. If you have questions about more complicated topics, you can reach out to the professor during office hours. Even after graduating, I would still email my personal finance professor with specific questions.
If you’re already taking the maximum amount of credit hours, you can still take advantage of a college personal finance class. Whitney Hansen, Host of The Money Nerds Podcast, is an Adjunct Professor at Boise State where she teaches personal finance. She said students who are busy or don’t have any credit hours can audit a personal finance course instead of enrolling.
Auditing means the course won’t show up on their transcript or use up any credit hours. They also don’t have to worry about attendance or the grade affecting their GPA. Hansen said she always sets aside seats for students who are interested but can’t add another class to their official schedule.
Find Personalized Help
Some colleges offer specific workshops or employ dedicated counselors to provide financial advice to current students. As more and more people push for an increased emphasis on financial literacy in higher education, these options are becoming more readily available every year.
For now, the problem is knowing where to look. If you’re a freshman or go to a large school, finding these programs can be particularly difficult.
“A lot of universities have their financial resources spread out in a few places,” Hansen said. “The best places to look are on your school’s financial aid office website, student affairs department, admissions office, and talking with your academic advisor.”
If you can’t find any personal finance workshops, you can request that the college add one to the docket. Colleges often have a special discretionary budget for student events, and anything directly aimed at promoting post-graduation financial success will be an easy sell.
“Depending on which school you attend, you may also be able to find free personal finance programs or workshops offered through student life/affairs, or as one of the spokes of your school’s overarching wellness program,” said Tara Falcone, CFA, CFP®, Founder of ReisUP and creator of online financial literacy program, LIT. “Finally, you may have the opportunity to attend free personal finance workshops led by alumni who are passionate about financial literacy.”
Go to the Library
If you’ve already got your classes scheduled or your college doesn’t offer financial workshops year-round, you’ll have to take your financial education into your own hands. Start by checking out beginner personal finance books at the college library.
All of these books will be in the same nonfiction section, usually near business and marketing books. College libraries often have longer loan periods than public libraries, so you should have plenty of time to get through whatever you choose to check out.
If you’re having trouble finding a specific personal-finance book, you can request that the college library purchase it. You’ll probably have to talk to a librarian and fill out a request form. You could also visit the local public library and see if they have a more varied selection.
One age-appropriate selection for college students is Erin Lowry’s “Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping by and Get Your Financial Life Together.”
Lowry, also a Mint contributor, answers elementary questions like, “What kind of bank account should I open?” and “What is an emergency fund?” Her book is easy-to-read and designed for those with no prior personal finance knowledge.
Contact Your Bank
Your bank wants you to be financially successful. The more capital you earn, the more you can save, invest and borrow in the future. Because of this, your bank has a vested interest in helping you learn about personal finance.
Many banks offer personal finance workshops to customers looking for a better understanding of their finances. These events cover topics like creating a budget, paying off debt and buying a house.
If your bank has a local branch, see if they have any workshops scheduled. Visit your bank’s website or call the branch directly. They may have in-person sessions, virtual classes or webinars. You can also ask if they have financial counselors or educators who offer one-on-one support.
Sometimes you can request the bank to facilitate a workshop for a group, like a club or sorority you’re part of.
If your bank doesn’t have a physical location near you, see if there’s a credit union attached to your school. This is common with major universities, and these credit unions may have special programming designed for college students. You may have to join the credit union to attend a workshop, but they’re often open to the general public.