Hack Your Future with Personal Finance: A College Student Guide

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Personal Finance is a HUGE topic. Maybe you’re beginning your adulting adventures, and you’re wondering where to start.

When I was a junior in college, I was 100% in the same boat. What I learned completely changed my approach to money. My first suggestion would be to take a personal finance class to get the traditional information under your belt. My second suggestion would be to read the rest of this post.

Getting a good grasp on personal finance from a young age can literally change your life. So many people are limited by their finances, despite their college education. Before getting a job, or better yet – before even picking a college – get an idea for the financial hacks that can save you time, energy, and money.


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This is a list of all of the hacks that I wish I had known about when I was in high school and starting college. Take advantage of the opportunities that I missed! I summarized the points, but you should definitely do your own research on each topic. I am not a financial advisor and these are strictly my opinions.

***If you take away one thing from this article, it should be to UNDERSTAND THE VALUE OF COMPOUND INTEREST***

Think about these before college

Good Grades / SAT Scores / Involvement = Scholarships

When I was in high school, I participated in sports (barely varsity), ran a community service club, got SAT scores around the 80th percentile, played an instrument, and got A’s in AP/honors classes. These accomplishments, paired with decent essays, allowed me to earn thousands of dollars in outside scholarships from my high school. DO THIS. It has helped me immensely.

The Name is not Always Worth the Price

Networking and name recognition is important, but do not cross off the safety/average schools from your list. For example, while some think lesser of state schools, many have excellent programs for specific degrees. Also, remember that you can always go to a different school for your graduate degree. Additionally, there are plenty of 2+2 programs out there, so you can get your bachelor’s degree from the school you want at a reduced price. I would recommend asking working professionals how important school prestige is in your desired field. I’ve found many amazing SLP’s who earned their degrees from state schools or small private schools with great undergraduate and/or graduate programs.

AP Classes, CLEP Exams, and Dual Enrollment = Free Money

By taking advantage of these high school opportunities, you could save THOUSANDS of dollars and loads of time in college. While passing every AP exam can be tricky, it’s worth a try; plus, taking these courses looks good to colleges. You can earn credits for FREE by taking an online class with Modern States “Freshman Year for Free” program and passing the CLEP exam (similar to an AP test). Lastly, dual enrollment is an underrated way to experience a college course early, discover what you are interested in, and get more credits.

Schedule before you Start for Bonus Resume Boosters

Fun facts: I have 3 minors, completed 3 semesters of research, and fit in 5 Honors Program courses throughout my undergraduate years. This is in addition to completing my CSD major requirements and general education requirements. Fitting all of this was not overly stressful or complicated; all I did was plan early. Once I knew which university I was going to, I researched the in’s and out’s of all of their requirements. I sketched out each semester and made a 4 year plan. I honestly could have done most things in 3 years if I had wanted to. 

I changed my mind along the way; for example, I switched minors during the second semester of my sophomore year. I also did research a year earlier than planned. However, the classes were planned so that I could just shift them around. I would highly recommend doing this; while many stress out with scheduling every semester, I know that I am right on track. Planning allowed me to get my full money’s worth of college.

Think about these during college

Continue to Plan Major(s)/Minor(s) Early

Like I said above, plan early. Sometimes your interests and goals change. That is completely normal and you should not penalize yourself for wanting something different out of your education. Just keep up with these changes by altering your schedule as needed.


Even though you are no longer able to take AP exams in college, CLEP exams are still on the table. Again, you can earn credits for FREE by taking an online class with Modern States “Freshman Year for Free” program and passing the CLEP exam (similar to an AP test).

Pick up a Work-Study Position or Side Hustle

Despite the stresses of college, most students have enough time to work on the side. Personally, I am an RA at my university, meaning that I manage the halls in exchange for free room and a stipend. Work-study positions are amazing; the physical location is right next to your classes, and the work is often easier than a typical job. Or in my case, more enjoyable. Plenty of students are able to study during their shifts too, depending on the nature of their position. If you don’t pick up a work-study position, other jobs and side hustles are great too! For example, you could buy/sell things online, start a YouTube channel, or drive for Uber. If you get creative, the options are endless.

Build Skills – Take a Personal Finance Class

Like I said in the intro, taking a personal finance class is the way to go. By building your financial literacy, you can make smart decisions now that could impact you for the rest of your life. If you cannot take a class, reading books and watching YouTube videos on the topic can be largely helpful, as well.

Get a Credit Card and Use it Right to Build Credit

When I was in high school, I got a debit card, and thus found it pointless to get a credit card. I was wrong. Credit cards are extremely helpful if you always pay them off in full right away. By using them continuously, you can build up your credit score. This will allow you to get better deals (like loans) in the future. Additionally, credit cards come with perks! For example, my card gives me 5% cash back on certain purchases. This bonus is fun and it costs me absolutely nothing.


Think about these after college

Remember the Importance of Compound Interest

See above.

Save with a Retirement Account (Especially if your Employer Doubles it) and High-Yield Savings Account

There are certain tax advantages surrounding retirement accounts. These advantages allow you to save more and use the principle of compound interest. Do some research and find out what makes the most sense for your situation. Look into Roth IRA’s and such. 

Form an Emergency Fund

An emergency fund is money that you set aside if s*** hits the fan (e.g. you lose your job or need to repair something unexpectedly). The money should be easy to access, so you may want to keep it in a high-interest savings account. I like the idea of a 6-month emergency fund. Thus, I would have enough money to pay for everything I need to live like normal for 6 months if I lost my job. This safety net of money allows you to take more risks in the moment and avoid debt if anything unfortunate should occur.

Take Advantage of the Society’s View of “College Kids” and Young Adults

We young adults are expected to be broke. And oftentimes, we are. HOWEVER, you can use that to your advantage. Early on, it is normal to live in a crappy rental unit or stay with parents. You can eat cheaply and no one will bat an eye. By doing this and using your income for other things (e.g. putting it towards assets or savings), you can get ahead.

Continue Your Side Hustle

Or start a new one! You can incorporate your degree or any new skills you now have.

Continue to get Rewards with your Credit Card – Credit Churning

I have never tried credit churning, but it is a financial hack that some stand by. Google it!

Avoid Lifestyle Inflation

Oftentimes, when people get a raise in pay, they increase the cost of their lifestyle. For example, they’ll go to more expensive restaurants since they can afford them. However, this is a pitfall; while it is important to celebrate and treat yourself, it is also important to save the portion that you didn’t have before.

Invest in Stocks/Bonds (if you’re into that kind of thing)

Finance is a subject that can be intimidating… especially when it comes to the stock market. There’s a lot to learn, especially if no one ever taught you about it. However, the financial gurus of the world often swear that it’s well worth it. While there is risk involved, there is also reward. I suggest at least looking into it!

Which hacks have you used?
Do you have any additional hacks?

Comment below!

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