Smart Financial Literacy Tips for College Students—From an Expert!

John Schlander
April 16, 2019

Whether you’re about to graduate from high school and embark on your first year of college, or you’re a few years into the “real-world,” learning healthy financial habits can set you up for the kind of future you always dreamed of. So this Financial Literacy Month we’re going straight to the experts! Managing Editor of The Penny Hoarder, John Schlander, answered our questions about financial literacy tips for college students.

Here’s how you can tackle your finances with confidence:

How can college students plan for financial success in the future?

John: Define what financial success and overall success mean to you — not to society, your parents or your friends. To you. Things will cost more than you think, but with good budgeting and smart spending, you can run your life successfully even at starter income levels.

Choose a field of study you feel passionate about, and work hard at it. Gain practical experience through an internship and/or by actually doing the thing you’re studying. If it’s writing, write. If it’s IT, code. If it’s archaeology, dig. Make sure you actually like doing the thing. If not, switch to something else. Your life will be a lot better if you like what you do.

Become financially literate. Learn about fundamentals like budgeting, debt, credit, saving, investing — and the power of compound interest. You’ll be surprised at how easily you can save a wad of money if you start early. I’m a little biased, but a good place to start learning is at We’re all about ways to make, save, and manage money. Also, if your college offers a personal finance course, take it.

What’s your top financial advice for college students today?

John: Make a budget and stick to it. You may or may not be earning money yourself already, but you’re spending it. Track it, and don’t overspend. This will serve you well as you begin your career, especially since you might be facing student debt at that point. If you have enough money, budget in a little fun spending. Once you’re working, you might try the 50/30/20 budget, with 50% for essentials, 30% for personal spending and 20% for savings and other financial goals.

What are some of the most common financial mistakes college students make and how can they avoid them?

John: Don’t confuse your wants with needs. We all have material things we yearn for. We may even feel like we deserve them. But we may not really need them. Wait until you can afford them. Make a plan for earning the extra money if it’s that important to you. This, too, will serve you well after you graduate and join the work world.

If you do mess up, just fess up. Admit it to yourself. Don’t deny your debt or give up on budgeting. Persist. How you respond to problems and obstacles will determine a lot about your future success.

Do you have any tips and tricks for saving money and/or budgeting for college students?

John: Motivate yourself by setting financial goals and tracking your progress. Bullet journals have become popular for this purpose.

Here’s another good article on how to save money. Read for more great tips and tricks. These are our specialty.

What’s one thing college students can do this Financial Literacy Month to set themselves up for success?

John: Think about what success means to you, both financially and for your overall life. What’s most important to you, and what do you want for your life? Write it down as your personal mission statement. Your views might change over time as you learn and grow. That’s fine. You’ll need to be flexible in life. But knowing your mission, your purpose, will help you set goals and make decisions that lead to your personal version of success.

Have a smart financial literacy tip of your own? Share it with us!

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John Schlander is managing editor at The Penny Hoarder, a popular website on ways to make, save and manage money.