Financial Advice for College Students

I am a regular reader of the personal finance blog Get Rich Slowly. The blogger, JD, first wrote to consolidate his thoughts on his own battle with debt. That single blog post has turned into an insightful and informative web center for financial advice, with a very active reader base. JD describes his site as such:

You will not find any get rich quickly schemes here. You will not find multi-level marketing fads or hot stock tips here. I am not pitching any product or book. (Yet.)

You will find daily information about personal finance and related topics. I’ll share stories about debt elimination, saving money, and practical investing. I will post occasional reviews of books, magazines, and software. I will scour the web for the latest personal finance tools and articles. I’ll also post news on related topics like simplicity, frugality, and personal development.

I really enjoy reading JD’s posts, but have noticed a trend. JD writes from his current point of view – an adult with a steady, reliable, and adequate source of income. Most of his readers appear to be at that same stage of life. His focus is on eliminating debt, saving, and investing money.

Unfortunately, as a college student, I have found that my own financial situation isn’t nearly that stable, and rarely is it adequate. I was curious if JD or any of his readers would have advice on trying to be financially intelligent when I’m not really making enough to live off to begin with.

So I emailed JD and asked him that question.

He ran my question yesterday as an “Ask The Readers” article, and I am thrilled by the number of responses I received. I was able to come up with a few ideas for how to spend less than I already am, including learning to cook so I eat out less. One major thing these readers reminded me of, though, is that it’s ok to rely on my parents. I’m just not at a stage of life where I’m able to be fully independent yet, and that’s all right.

Thank you, JD, for running my question on your blog. Also, thank you, Get Rich Slowly readers, for your many responses. It is wonderful to be included in such a thoughtful and helpful community.

My hope is that some of these points can benefit other financially-cautious college students, not just me.

Click to view JD’s post, and his readers’ comments.

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The Problem of Failure

You are a failure.

Now, wait just a minute, you may say, you don’t know that! Or, No I’m not! Trust me, you are. Have you ever forgotten to turn in an assignment? Have you ever bombed a quiz or test? Have you ever failed a class? Have you ever just forgotten to pick up something from the grocery store? If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, you have failed. Maybe saying you’re a “failure” is taking things a little too far, but I’m trying to make a point here.

You know what they say – the first step toward recovery is admitting you have a problem. But let’s stop listening to “they” for a few minutes and really think about failure, as a concept.

What’s wrong with failing? Why is failing a problem to begin with? Obviously, failing a class could be a problem, especially if graduating requires that class. Failure can also be a problem when we’re talking about reliability. If your friend (or whoever) is counting on you to get something done, and you don’t do it, you’ve failed them.

Looking at the big picture, though, I don’t think these are the problems with failure. These are rather minor in comparison with the rest of your life. The problem with failure isn’t that people fail. The problem is that we have been taught so many negative connotations to the word that we are afraid of it.

People who are afraid of failure won’t try anything new. They also won’t attempt to change their situation, no matter how much they may hate it. Are they afraid of knowing they failed, or are they afraid of letting other people know they failed? Probably both, but more of the latter, I expect. People are usually terrified of what other people think of them.

So to fail is a bad thing. “A failure” is a person who will never be successful, who has been written off. But many “successful” people (and companies) have disastrous failures in their past. They were able to overcome the negativity associated with “failing”.

They were able to say “That didn’t work, so what will?” In this way, I’d like to view failure as a good thing. People need to change their attitude toward failure. ZenHabits blogger Leo Babauta suggests a different way to view failure:

Failure is a stepping stone to success. This is what I tell myself every time I fall. I get up, dust myself off, and start again. Each failure shows you an obstacle you didn’t anticipate, and you can plan to beat that obstacle next time. Each failure brings you that much closer to winning. And you know what? Every time I’ve told myself that, so far, it’s been true. I’ve succeeded. Getting back up is the main thing.

How can failure be a good thing? It is what causes you to learn from your mistakes. It allows you to see problems in your method. The next step, the one many people are unable to complete, is analyzing your failure. This is how you learn from your mistakes.

You must renew your resolve. You have to be determined to examine your failure, and not let it discourage you. When you do examine it, first find out why you failed. Then ask yourself what you could have done differently to change the outcome. Be determined to enact this change the next time the situation comes up.

The key to success is learning to deal with failure. Learn from mistakes. See the problems, but more importantly, ask how to fix them. Analyze the failure to work through it. This is success.

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