New Year’s resolutions get a lot of flack, but only because most people don’t stick with them longer than a week or two. The start of the year is a perfect time to make changes, both from a symbolic and a practical perspective.
If you’re a college student, chances are you made some questionable financial decisions in 2019. It’s time to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and focus on 2020. Try ringing in the new year by committing to one – or several – of these resolutions.
Resolution #1: Start an Emergency Fund
Even if your parents are footing most of the bill in college, you need to have a small emergency fund to get you through minor financial setbacks. Speeding tickets, lost cell phones and unexpected car repairs can all bleed an unprepared college student dry.
If you don’t have an emergency fund to pull from, you’ll end up borrowing money from your parents or begging your friends — two embarrassing scenarios no one wants to find themselves in. You might be able to sell something at a pawn shop, but that’s an even less desirable option.
A starter emergency fund should have at least $100. That amount will cover most surprise expenses, like an urgent care bill when you cut yourself cooking or a locksmith fee when you lock yourself out of your car.
After you graduate and start living on your own, you should increase this emergency fund to cover three month’s worth of expenses.
Resolution#2: Take a Resume-Writing Class
Learning to write a concise resume is an essential skill every college student should have. A well-written resume will set you apart as a detail-oriented, conscientious applicant. It can lead to a better job with a higher salary, even if your grades aren’t perfect. In that case, a quality resume is even more important.
Many schools offer courses on writing a resume, interviewing, and basic networking skills. Some have monthly workshops where you can bring a resume to be critiqued for free. Ask your advisor for information on your school’s resume classes and other career-building resources.
Resolution #3: Build Your Student Loan Repayment Strategy
If you’re a college senior, figuring out your student loan strategy is the best New Year’s resolution possible. Once you graduate, you’ll be responsible for repaying those student loans whether you’re prepared or not.
First, look up your federal student aid ID number to find your federal loans. Private student loans can be found on your credit report, which you can access for free at AnnualCreditReport.com. Also, ask your parents if they took out any student loans that you’ll be responsible for repaying.
Once you know the total loan amount, do some research and consider your strategy. Federal loans have a variety of repayment options including Public Service Loan Forgiveness. You can refinance private loans to a lower interest rate once you graduate and get a full-time job.
Resolution #4: Use a Budget to Reduce Student Loan Dependence
It’s common for college students to borrow the maximum amount in student loans and not consider taking out a smaller sum. This year, resolve to start a budget and borrow less money for next semester.
Sync your bank and credit card accounts with Mint to start tracking your transactions. See what expenses you can eliminate and where you can make small changes. After doing this for a few months, you may be confident enough to borrow less next semester.
Remember, interest rates on student loans can be high. When you avoid taking out more in student loans, you’re saving yourself from the potential interest as well as that amount.
Resolution #5: Take Advantage of More Student Discounts
Many stores and service providers offer student discounts. For example, Spotify has a $4.99 monthly premium student membership that includes free subscriptions to Hulu and Showtime. Apple offers 5% off for students on most products, and Regal cinemas offers discounted movie tickets.
You’ll likely have to provide your student email address, student ID or some other proof of enrollment. Some retailers will also put a limit on how long a student can claim their discount.
Anytime you’re shopping or signing up for a subscription, ask if there’s a student discount. You may be surprised at how much you can save.
How to Stick to New Year’s Resolutions
Almost everyone who creates a New Year’s resolution will falter at some point. The important thing is what you do afterwards. Do you persevere, or do you let the failure convince you to give up entirely?
If you go overboard on your budget or wait a few months to look up student loan information, don’t beat yourself up. Examine what got in the way and consider how to get started again. The expectation of perfection is what prevents people from keeping their resolutions.
Make Small Changes
When you’re trying to make new changes, it can be tempting to go from 0 to 100 — but that’s how most people fail with New Year’s resolutions. Just walk into any gym in the first week of January and you’ll see scores of fresh faces nearly passing out with effort. Come back at the end of the month and those same people will be AWOL.
Instead of trying to save $50 a week, start with $10. Once you can do that successfully for a few weeks, increase the amount to $20. Instead of cutting out all Postmates deliveries, limit it to once a week. Small changes are more sustainable and won’t make you feel as deprived.
What financial resolutions are you setting this year? Let us know in the comments!