As a student starting university, future-proofing your finances probably won’t be top on your list of priorities.
You likely already have a weekly or monthly budget planned that you stick to, cook your meals and avoid spending money on vices like coffee, booze and cigarettes to stretch your cash.
But when it comes to avoiding financial mistakes, there’s more than meets the eye than merely living frugally and avoid racking up credit card debt.
Here are five things you should know as a student that can save yourself some long-term financial pain post-graduation.
Misusing your student loan money
Many students can share anecdotal references about friends who have misused their student loan or used the excess payment for non-educational purposes, like putting a down payment for a car to shopping for new clothes.
In the short-term, spending your loan money on something else apart from your tertiary education may not seem like a big deal. Others have done it, you tell yourself as you make a mental note to take up a part-time job to earn some cash on the side.
But then the semesters zip by and the little you earn, you spend on gas for those long road trips with friends. Before you know it, you’re graduating and up to your ears in debt.
That excess money should have been put to better use such as repaying your loan and avoiding accrued interest. Spending money to live beyond your means may mean spending a longer time in debt post-graduation.
Studying at a university you can’t afford
You may have had your eyes on a particular university that is renowned and expensive, but if you’ve exhausted all measures to obtain scholarships to finance your way through this particular school, you may want to consider other affordable options that won’t leave you struggling to pay your student loan debt post-retirement.
We get it – in some instances, there may be peer pressure to study abroad or to pick a private institution over a public one “like everyone else” to further your education. However, everyone’s financial capabilities are different, so it’s important to factor in what you can afford.
The difference of paying a student debt of US$30,000 versus US$80,000 makes a significant impact on your lifestyle upon graduation, both in terms of how much you pay per month and for how long. It’s worth noting that there are public institutions that are on-par with private ones, so weigh your options and don’t be too quick to dismiss the value of studying at an affordable institution.
Failing to take scholarship hunting seriously
Think you’re not smart or talented enough to get a scholarship?
Don’t give up before you’ve even started – with so many needs-based and merit-based scholarships and financial aids offered by the government, universities, non-profit or professional organisations, you should allocate ample of time to go through them and apply for those you qualify for.
There are academic, sports, special talent (e.g. musicians, athletes, etc.) and needs-based scholarships, so you might find one that suits you. Even partial scholarships or aids are worth trying as they can take some financial load off your shoulders upon graduation.
Taking longer to graduate
Completing your degree may take three to four years, depending on your programme. However, by switching majors, failing classes and having to repeat them can add to the duration of your studies, which also means going deeper into debt or draining your savings.
So do whatever it takes to graduate on time – whether it means being more disciplined and conscientious in university to ensure you study and pass your exams and assignments to not working too many hours in your part-time job that you jeopardise your grades.
Not getting a part-time job
Getting a part-time job while in university is not only a great way to help you earn some money to build your savings or reduce your dependency on your loan as you study, but it can also help you build your career simultaneously.
You’ll gain valuable soft skills, such as communication and time management skills (when balancing your work-study life), while doing internships in your field of choice gives you professional working experience, in addition to acting as a platform that enables you to network with people who are already in your field of choice, which may help improve your future employability.