Articles, College

23 Steps College Students Can Take for a Bright Financial Future

Written By: Katie Brenneman
Reviewed by: Mike Reyes
Last Updated January 26, 2023

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three college students

College is the first step into adulthood for many young people. It’s a pivotal time for defining a career path and envisioning what they want life to be like in the coming years. It’s also when young college students take steps to become more independent, like taking responsibility for their finances. 

Unfortunately, many college students don’t do much to secure their financial futures while in school. As a result, they struggle to stay afloat, and those bad financial habits carry over into life after graduation. 

Instead of neglecting finances in college, students can use this time to ensure they don’t have a lot of money-related headaches to look forward to later on. 

Steps College Students Can Take For A Bright Financial Future

Saving money is an essential step for college students for several reasons. First, it can help them stay on top of their expenses and avoid debt. Second, it can give them a cushion in case of an emergency. Finally, it can help them prepare for their future by giving them a head start on saving for retirement or a down payment on a house.

There are 23 key steps college students can take to save money.

Improve Financial and Health Literacy 

The first step college students can take to secure a bright financial future is to improve their financial literacy. Financial literacy is all the skills and knowledge necessary to make intelligent decisions with money and other financial resources.  

College students can improve their knowledge of budgeting, saving, taxes, investing, credit, retirement, and other personal finance basics by: 

  • Reading personal finance books, blogs, and other literature
  • Taking a personal finance class 
  • Listening to finance podcasts 
  • Signing up for email lists related to money management 
  • Attending finance workshops, conferences, and events 
  • Leveraging social media 
  • Seeking advice from successful people 

It’s also essential to develop an understanding of health literacy. Health issues and medical expenses can take a huge toll on finances. Health-related costs can quickly increase from costly doctor visits to insurance and prescription charges. 

When college students are educated about their health, they can take preventative measures that result in fewer doctor visits. They also learn about the financial obligations associated with healthcare and how to ensure they’re as cost-effective as possible. 

Understanding how to manage health and finances effectively puts college students on track to a healthy financial future. 

Set Life and Financial Goals 

Setting life and financial goals is essential for any college student looking to build a promising financial future. Visualizing what a successful life looks like can be incredibly motivating. And setting specific financial goals will help college students define the steps they need to take to achieve them. 

Spend time mapping out how life in the future will look. Also, hone in on specific financial goals. For example, set a goal for savings each year in college or when student loans should be paid in full.  

Setting life and financial goals helps college students figure out what they need to do to achieve them. 

Consider Alternative Educational Opportunities 

A traditional 4-year college or university education sometimes isn’t feasible financially right off the bat. And that’s okay. A part of being financially stable is knowing when to choose a more affordable route. 

Transferring to a college or university is always an option. So, consider alternative educational opportunities that are more affordable to start with, like:

  • Community college 
  • Trade school 
  • Online college 
  • Apprenticeship 
  • Military 

It may not be ideal, but starting with an educational opportunity more cost-effective than a traditional 4-year college degree can save college students money in the long run. 

Understand Paying for College 

college students who just graduated

Unfortunately, many college students don’t take the time to truly understand what they’re paying for and how to best pay for it. They take out student loans without knowing how to pay them back effectively. They don’t take advantage of grants and scholarships like they should. And they don’t factor in costs outside of tuition. 

College students must take the time to understand paying for college. Sitting down with someone in the financial department at their school is the best way to learn about: 

  • Tuition and other expenses
  • Financial aid 
  • Student loans 
  • Repayment 
  • Additional financial resources for students

Understanding what you have to pay to attend college and the many ways to do it is the key to making insightful decisions about how to approach these financial obligations best. 

Don’t Drop Out 

Dropping out of college can result in serious financial consequences. This resource reveals that “the average college dropout leaves campus with $13,929 in student loan debt.” And many don’t make payments on student loans, leading to default and adverse action on their credit files. 

Career options and earning power are also affected by dropping out. Because so many positions call for a college degree, those who don’t have one make significantly less than those who do have one. 

Simply put, don’t drop out. Instead, students should choose a college and be fully committed to completing their education. 

College students should avoid dropping out to ensure they don’t accumulate unnecessary student loan debt, negatively affecting their future earning power. 

Work While in School 

Securing a bright financial future may require college students to work while in school. Doing so can help them cover expenses and stabilize their income. It can also assist them in developing a work ethic they can bring into their careers after graduation. 

Consider getting a part or full-time job while in school. Work-study programs are a great starting point because work schedules are created around school schedules. College students can also use online job boards and social media to find suitable positions. 

Working while in school makes it easier to pay off student loans early, save, and cover unexpected expenses. 

Consider Starting a Business 

Starting a business can also benefit college students’ financial futures. Working for someone else isn’t as stable as most people think. It also doesn’t usually equate to a comfortable financial future if it’s the only source of income. 

On the other hand, starting a business can result in real wealth. If a student can start a business while in college and stick with it, by the time they get out of college, it can be a profitable asset that drives their financial future. 

It’s best to create a business plan to give a business idea shape. Then, craft a step-by-step plan for bringing the business vision to life. Also, college students must ensure their education comes first. If the business takes away from that, they need to make some adjustments. 

Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. But it’s at least worth serious consideration because of how it can fast-track financial freedom. 

Take on an Internship 

One of the best ways to get some work experience and get in a position for a permanent role after graduation is to take on an internship. College students can simultaneously focus on their studies and experience what it will be like in the work world in their respective industries.  

See what internship opportunities are available. Visit the career center on campus to get the best internship information and guidance on how to land one. 

College students can gain valuable work experience, grow their professional networks, and potentially land a permanent position after graduation with the right internship, all of which contribute to a promising financial future. 

Secure a Post-Graduate Position Before you Graduate 

One of the most stressful parts of college is figuring out what to do after graduation, particularly where to work. The first job after graduation is influential in setting a foundation for healthy finances. 

It can be incredibly defeating if a college student has to work somewhere that has nothing to do with their degree right after graduation. And they can end up staying at that job longer than they should. 

Instead, college students should do their best to secure a post-graduate position before they graduate. Reaching out to companies they enjoyed interning at or doing volunteer work with is a great starting point as there is already an established relationship. 

If college students can secure a job before they graduate, it can relieve some of the financial pressure. 

Create a Budget and Stick to It 

A budget is a secret weapon in successful money management. College students can gain insight into their spending habits and learn to live below their means with a realistic budget. 

College students should allocate money to housing, utilities, insurance, transportation, food, paying off debt, and savings. They should also budget for unexpected expenses. For example, many college students have to move throughout the year. Relocation expenses like paying for movers should be accounted for in their budget when the time comes. 

Be sure the budget is written down or digitally documented. Also, make adjustments to it when income and expenses change. 

Establish a Relationship With a Financial Institution 

Students will have a much better experience cashing checks, saving, investing, and acquiring loans for milestone purchases when they have a genuine relationship with their bankers. 

College students can establish a relationship with a financial institution by opening and checking a savings account. Then, they can explore opening a credit card or loan later on as the relationship progresses. 

Establishing a relationship with a financial institution early on will make it easier for college students to expand their finances. 

Save Rigorously 

College students will have a brighter financial future when they develop the habit of saving. Of course, it’s easy to deposit money into a savings account. But the real challenge is never touching that money. 

A rigorous savings routine can help college students build an emergency fund and put away money for milestone purchases like their first home or car. It’ll also teach them how not to be a consumer their whole lives. 

Every time income comes in, college students should pay themselves via their savings accounts first. Their financial success in the future depends on it. 

Build Credit 

Intentionally building credit is another step college students can take for a bright financial future. A credit score conveys someone’s creditworthiness to lenders, ranging from 300 to 850. Higher credit scores get better interest rates, perks, and limits, while lower credit scores get fewer lending options and bonuses and pay more interest. 

College students should begin building credit early on in their education. Becoming an authorized user on a parent’s credit card or setting up a secured credit card are typical routes for building credit as a college student. 

College students should also ensure they make all of their payments on time and pay off their card balances in full every month. Furthermore, they should expand their credit profiles with installment loans when the time is right. 

College students must establish creditworthiness if they want to take their finances to the next level. 

Talk With a Financial Advisor 

Talking with a financial advisor is an excellent opportunity to learn more about managing and growing finances. They can offer financial advice that helps college students achieve short and long-term financial goals. 

College students should go through their financial institutions to connect with a financial advisor. They can then do a bit of research on each advisor’s background before deciding on who to set up a consultation with. 

Talking with a financial advisor can help solidify a plan for building wealth over time. 

Explore Investment Opportunities 

Financial advisors can also help college students explore investment opportunities. Investing is usually the last thing on a student’s mind, as it’s often seen as something you do when you’re older or have loads of money to throw at different opportunities. 

But college students can take advantage of investing early on and with almost any budget, especially with investment apps like Robinhood, Stash, and Acorns available. Determine an amount to use for investments each month and lean into expert advice for the best way to get started. 

Exploring investment opportunities in college can result in substantial financial gains in the future.  

Be Diligent About Paying Bills 

This one should be a given, but diligence about paying bills is crucial for a secure financial future. Unfortunately, many people can’t get ahead financially because they’ve yet to master paying bills on time. 

Late fees and penalties for not making payments can financially keep anyone on a destructive path. So, even if their parents are covering significant expenses like rent and tuition, college students must still focus on paying smaller bills on time every month. Doing so will get them to take care of business first. It’ll also help them become more independent and confident. 

Being diligent about paying bills while in college is a financial habit that must be carried into life after graduation. 

Live Frugally 

Learning to live frugally is crucial in securing a bright financial future. People who live a frugal life are conscious of what they spend, hyper-focused on financial priorities, and conditioned to save money at all costs. 

College students should adopt a frugal lifestyle. Shop at thrift stores. Cancel unnecessary subscriptions. Take advantage of free campus resources and events. Coupon often. Negotiate and barter with services, and use cost-effective transportation like buses and bikes. 

It’s important to avoid the lifestyle creep too. Even if college students increase their income during their years at school, it doesn’t mean they should increase their spending. Instead, allocate that extra income to savings or paying off debt. 

Frugal living helps college students learn to live below their means and only buy what they need rather than succumbing to their wants. 

Refrain From Buying New 

As they adopt a frugal lifestyle, it’s also essential for college students to refrain from buying anything new. New things cost the most money. Students must get beyond the natural tendency to want to buy new and not care what society says about it. They’re spending responsibly, and that’s what matters. 

College students should always look for a used alternative to a new product, especially with big purchases like a car. New cars may be prettier and more reliable, but they also have a high price tag to go with them. Instead, opt for a used car and purchase an affordable warranty for it to save money on future repairs and the car purchase overall.

Swap new things for used things to keep more money in your pocket. 

Learn to Cook 

It’s incredible how much money college students spend on eating out. Even when meals are included in their financial aid packages, they often use food delivery services and visit restaurants and fast food places.  

Learning how to cook is in every college student’s best interest. They’ll learn to grocery shop and whip up delicious meals on a budget, saving them hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars over their years in school. 

Socialize Responsibly 

Socializing is another huge expense for college students. Partying, going out, and socializing with friends are typical pastimes in college. Students can and should enjoy themselves. But they should do it mindful of their finances. 

Overindulging in alcohol leads to many irrational purchases while socializing. So, college students should make it a point to drink responsibly and only take a specific amount of money with them on their outings. 

Socializing responsibly can ensure college students don’t overspend on entertaining themselves. 

Protect Your Financial Health 

As college students build their economic futures, it’s also essential to prioritize protecting their financial health. They should put measures to ensure their finances are protected and continually growing. 

Beware of identity theft. Be careful shopping online. Use text updates to track what’s going in and out of accounts. Have financial mail forwarded to a family member’s home for more security, and keep an emergency stash. 

In addition to protecting their financial health, college students must audit their finances regularly. 

Audit Your Finances Regularly 

Finances must be audited regularly to ensure they’re accurate and always progressing. 

College students should audit their finances at least once per quarter to ensure they’re up to date, organized, and on track to achieve their financial goals. Comb through expenses, income streams, and investment opportunities for discrepancies and take the necessary steps to resolve them. 

Make a Commitment to a Bright Financial Future

This might be the most critical step college students can take for a bright financial future. A genuine commitment to doing what it takes to secure their financial future is vital. Without it, they’ll likely succumb to the hard times in a journey to financial freedom. 

College students must decide that their financial future is a priority. They must remain disciplined in the journey. They must be devoted to growing their relationship with money and improving their financial mindset. 

Securing a bright financial future is a lifelong journey. But, if they commit, college students can easily make it happen. 


College students who get ahead of their finances while in school will reap benefits that secure their futures and help them create the life they want. Taking every step above will ensure their financial future is bright. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

What four steps can you take as a college student to increase your savings?

College students can take these four steps to increase their savings:
1. Use all free resources and amenities on campus before looking off-campus. 
2. Create a budget and stick to it. 
3. Set up an automatic transfer to your savings account every payday. 
4. Get rid of your car and commute. 

Why do college students struggle financially?

College students struggle financially because tuition and school-related expenses are rising. It’s also challenging to get a good-paying job as a college student, which makes it difficult to cover college expenses and living expenses. Furthermore, many college students aren’t financially literate, causing them to make irresponsible money decisions. 

How can students overcome financial problems?

Students can overcome financial problems by first improving their financial literacy. Next, they should analyze their monthly income and expenses. Then, students can begin to cut back on expenses, explore opportunities to make money, eliminate debt, save regularly, and be diligent about living below their means. 

How do college students create budgets?

The first step in creating a budget as a college student is to identify precisely how much they make each month, what their total expenses are, and what’s left over after expenses are paid. Then, use a budget made from scratch or a well-known method like the down-to-zero approach, category-wise budget, or an activity-based budget to allocate money appropriately.

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