Only a few years ago, I was still in college and getting prepared for “real life”. Life has this irony that gives us tremendous energy and a great capacity to work when we are young but makes us wait years before delivering the knowledge, experience and wisdom to be truly successful. This is why we have the strength necessary to make financial mistakes when we are young and hopefully we learn from them.

Yet, those who are “lucky” enough to make the right decisions at a young age were able to get on the economic fast track. Because everything related to personal finance is exponential, if you have a fast start, chances are that you will enjoy more financial success in a few years from now.

While looking back, I noticed that I had made some serious mistakes but I also made some good moves. Today, I have decided to share my 5 best financial moves as a student (don’t worry, I’ll share my goofs in another post ;-)).

#1 Get a Credit Card at 18

Yeah I know, most people will tell me that they got killed by their first credit card purchases since they are still paying interest on them  today! Yet, I am a firm believer that you must learn to tame the beast early so you don’t get caught with bigger financial problems later on. If you load your $500 credit card tomorrow morning and you get stuck with 18% interest payments on it for the next 2 years, I guess you can learn from this lesson instead of waiting for the $200K mortgage and the huge payments that come with!

When I took my first credit card, I had a simple rule that I started to follow (and still follow today): no matter what is the balance at the end of the month, I have to pay it in full. This is how I built a strong credit history early in life.

#2 Work Almost Full Time

I was fortunate enough that my parents were willing to (and could!) pay for my education. At trhe same time, I had decided to work 30 hours a week on top of going to college. I really wanted to make money and enjoy life.  Shortly thereafter, I discovered that having a really busy schedule forced me do my school work on time instead of waiting until the last minute.

So besides not having to apply for student loans, working 30 hours a week gave me the opportunity to buy a car and travel while in college.

#3 Live in my Parents House

This was a tough decision as school was 1 and a half hours away from my parents’ house (and sometimes longer when I missed my bus!). While the commute was a big part of my day, it also gave me the opportunity to study and read my books so I didn’t have to do much at home. Saving rent money was probably the best thing I could have done as a student!

#4 Buy a Laptop

My laptop was (and still is!) my best friend. This expense was one of the best investments of my life in terms of efficiency. I was able to work everywhere at any time. The only downside is that I am already on to my 3rd laptop (and the one I have is filled with broken pixels…). So laptops help you become more productive but surely cost a few bucks along the way! This is probably my best earning money tool I have acquired so far!

#5 Spending most of my money in a foreign student exchange program

I had spent 6 months studying in France and travelling across Europe while I was in College. This was one of my biggest expenses ever (over $15,000 back in 2002) but it was also the most challenging and enlightening experiences of my life. Travelling at a young age strengthens your character and increases your autonomy and independence. I can’t say that I fear much since this trip!

What about you? What is your best financial move while in college?

Author: Mike.

Image source: SBA73