Financial Wellness Checklist for Graduating Seniors

It is almost graduation! While graduation is an exciting time, it can also be overwhelming to be thrown out into the “real world”. Getting your financial life in order can help you to feel more prepared for the next chapter in your life. Although this post is geared toward graduating seniors, it is helpful for anyone.

I also want to add that our counselors are here for you. Visit us before graduation and let us help you start post-grad life off on the right foot!

I have compiled a neat checklist for you to follow along with. This list is not exhaustive, but is a great start!

Graduating Senior Financial Checklist:

  • Create an online log-in with your student loan servicer
  • Set-up an appropriate repayment plan for your student loans
  • Open a checking account with no minimum balance and no monthly fees
  • Open a high-yield savings account to store emergency fund and other intermediate-term savings
  • Perform a credit well check- consider opening a credit card if you do not already have one
  • Read your employee benefits- if you are starting your career, spend some time studying your new benefits
  • Create a written budget
  • Start saving for retirement- utilize your employer match if you are starting your career, or consider opening a Roth IRA
  • Write out your short-term, intermediate-term, and long-term financial goals

The WKU Center for Financial Success has resources explaining how to accomplish these items here:

https://www.wku.edu/cfs/resourceshome.php

Our counselors can also walk you through this checklist and have you leaving WKU empowered and excited for the road ahead!

Visit our website to set up an appointment:

https://www.wku.edu/cfs/become-a-client.php

How to Live Well All Year Long (as a college student)

When I first started budgeting, I realized I was spending an absurd amount of money at Starbucks and eating out.

Like many others, I work as much as possible during the summer and winter to stockpile money for the semester when I cannot work as much. My financial goals at the start of each academic year are always to:

  1. Make my money last until May.
  2. Experience that year with my friends and family.
  3. Save money going into the next academic year

In August, I would look at my bank account balance and be afraid to spend because although my bank account balance was high, I was unsure how long my money would last. I would say no to weekend trips or events with my friends, and I stressed about unexpected expenses.

It wasn’t about having money, I had some, but I constantly worried, Do I have enough?

Enter budgeting. With my budget, I decide how much I want to spend each month to live comfortably. I decide how much I need for gas, for eating out, for gifts, for trips, and all of the other things that might happen in my life that academic year. I also consider things that might happen, such as having to get new tires or replacing my phone. After deciding how much I need, I spread my pile of money out from August to May.

I don’t have enough money for everything that I list out that I want. Because of this, I must prioritize what is important to me and eliminate those things that are less important. For example, I do not buy coffee from Starbucks anymore, unless I am having coffee with a friend. I also follow the same rule for eating out. For me, I was spending too much of my money on grabbing coffee and food alone, that I had to say no when friends were going out. I also do not buy new clothes and limit myself when buying new possessions. I don’t have enough for possessions and experiences. If I buy a new shirt, I must say no to fun with my friends later that week. I try to choose people over things.

Depending on your goals, your budget may lead you to work less or work more. For me, my budget enables me to stress less about work because I know how much time I need to spend at work to fund my priorities.

For help getting started with your own budget, we have a Quick Start Guide to Your Financial Success on Budgeting available for you here:

https://www.wku.edu/cfs/quickstartbudgeting.pdf

As always, we also encourage you to take advantage of our free peer-to-peer financial counseling by setting up an appointment with one of our counselors. You can do that here:

https://www.wku.edu/cfs/become-a-client.php

How {not} to spend your tax return

It’s tax season and for many of us that means a hefty tax return. What is the healthiest and most effective way to view your tax return?

Many people view a tax refund as free money and spend it almost as fast as it hits their bank account. But this attitude is dangerous. You work hard for your money all year, you have taxes withheld during that time, and now the government is giving you back some or all taxes withheld because you had more withheld than your tax liability.

Your tax return is an opportunity for you to create leverage in your financial life.

Here are 5 ways you can use your 2017 tax return:

  1. Open a high-yield savings account. You can use bankrate.com to research savings accounts and deposit the tax return money for safe-keeping. This can act as an emergency fund.
  2. Pay for school expenses. Your tax return could be used to pay off all or some of your WKU shortfall, allowing you to minimize the student loans you take out this fall.
  3. Pay off your credit card debt. It is not abnormal for college students to find themselves in credit card debt. Credit card interest rates are high and not paying hurts your credit score- use this as an opportunity to wipe the slate clean.
  4. Use it for an experience. Managing money is about using your money effectively to meet your short, intermediate, and long-term goals. It is okay to use part or all your return for a bucket-list item, if these other opportunities do not apply to you.
  5. Start a Roth IRA. A Roth Ira is a retirement savings account. Starting to save while you are young allows you to benefit from compound interest-and with a Roth IRA your money grows tax-free!

As always, for more information or to meet with a Financial Counselor, contact us at the WKU Center for Financial Success! We would love to sit down with you, go over your specific situation, and help you use your tax refund effectively!

How to Quit Stressing About Student Loans

If you’re reading this, you probably have student loan debt. It’s just a fact of life. The average student loan debt at graduation for WKU students is $28,000.

While the debt is a fact, the stress that ensues from it can be overwhelming and debilitating.

And everybody knows, the best thing to do when something is overwhelming is to suppress, suppress, suppress. When someone mentions student loans you just make like Andy Grammer and say, “Nah, nah, honey I’m good” and go about your day.

The great Michael Scott, long-time Regional Manager of Dunder Mifflin Scranton once said, “And I knew exactly what to do. But in a much more real sense, I had no idea what to do.”

You probably know exactly what you must do: pay back student loans after graduation. But how can you do that when you aren’t sure of your balance, the types of loans you have, who your loan servicer is, and repayment strategies? Answer: you can’t.

These amounts aren’t arbitrary. They are important and relevant to your life at this very moment. There are things you can and should be doing this month and this semester and this year to poise yourself for financial success now and into the future!

You have a couple things you can do. One is to whine! This is terrible, they don’t teach you this in school, school should be free, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah. Okay, now that were done whining, we will move on.

Next is to accept the reality. You are making an investment in yourself by attending WKU. You clearly value knowledge and are poising yourself for a successful career in an area you care about. And there are costs. Let’s not ignore these costs, but instead weigh them with the benefits!

We as humans tend to ignore what overwhelms us, especially finances because we lack the prowess to effectively manage them.

You, however, made a very intelligent decision to attend WKU. As a student you have full access to the counselors at the WKU Center for Financial Success, who will sit down with you one-on-one and go over each student loan, your WKU costs, as well as the other aspects of your financial life and create a financial strategy with you.

The problem with student loans is the uncertainty of it all. You’ll come into a one-on-one meeting feeling nervous and stressed, but you’ll leave with an attack strategy. We cannot erase your student debt, but we can help you handle it.