The Personal Finance Course You Wish You Had in College: Part I: The Mindset

Part I: The Mindset of a College Student

I talk with friends all of the time now about personal finances and there is a common idea that always comes up. We should have been taught about personal finance in college instead of things like “What defines piety?” or trying to figure out some long complicated problem regarding widgets from a textbook older than you are in an Ops Management course that will never apply to anything you do even if you go into Ops Management.

I bet that some of you have thought about that based on what you know now. There are so many things ranging from taxes to 401k’s to insurance to credit cards that we learn too late in life. Unfortunately when you move out and start your career with a salaried position at a decent company and start paying taxes you quickly realize the value of a dollar. That is not counting student loans, transportation costs, medical bills, insurance, savings, 401k’s etc. As soon as the paycheck hits your account most of that money is already spent or allocated.

Outside of parents telling you the value of a dollar or that you should save your money, you should be taught in the classroom. For starters, when your parents give you advice on money at a young age you somewhat blow it off because what do you care you are 18/19/20 years old and may or may not have a job that pays minimum wage or a little above that. As you know the only reason you are bagging groceries at Costco is for drinking money for the weekends. Second, I am not suggesting some dry boring class that students would get buried in long complicated texts and readings and tests. The idea for the class would be interactive, it would make it personal for the students. Just think how much students would learn in college if you made it personal and apply it to their daily lives. I am about to share more valuable information with you than any information you will get or have gotten from any gen. ed you can take in college.

Don’t Take College Too Seriously

Remember DTCTS! You are probably wondering why the hell I made an acronym out of the title, it is actually just made up. The building I live in puts up signs randomly in the elevator for like Christmas rules like tree disposal, noise, etc. and they will highlight the first letter of each bullet point to make it look like it is some special acronym they want people to remember but it never makes any sense.

I do not mean this heading in a literal sense, I am referring to students being more focused on their career than their actual schooling. I am also not suggesting to blow off classes and work 40+ hours a week just for the bread. Many students use the excuse of “I take umpteen credit hours and I just don’t have time for a job”. When you hear that you should know that this person is just lazy and doesn’t care about their career at this point because as soon as you sit your ass down in your first class freshman year, that is when you should care about your career. Caring about your career does include getting good grades but lets be honest, high school is more time consuming than college in the sense that in high school you would attend classes M-F from 8am-3pm and it SUCKED! College is much easier even if you take 18 credit hours because you will have days where you have no classes or just two classes. I can name 3 people right now who would disagree on these last few statements but that is why anomaly is a word.

Bottom line is that college gives students way too much free time for them not to have jobs. I am one to say that I doubled majored in finance and accounting, took 18 credits hours a semester to do so, and work in the city (40 minute commute via train daily) 30 hours a week and I am not the smartest student. I did what needed to get done in order to get 3.4 GPA. Most importantly, I showed up to class, most classes this is 10% of your grade right there. Another portion of your final grade might be 20-40% on homework, so even if I half assed it or guessed, I still turned the homework in on time because for most professors homework is just a completion grade because they do not want to sit and grade nonsense homework twice a week for just one class of 30 students not counting the other 4 classes they teach. I put forth the effort on showing up and doing the homework to where there was not such a big weight on getting an A on tests. Sure I studied, mostly the night before for a few hours, then I would get to the point to where I would say to myself “At this point either I know it, or I don’t” and then close the notebook and turn on the Xbox. I would piss some fellow classmates off because they know I half assed my way through classes (not buying a textbook for a course gives off that impression I guess…) that they would wonder how I do it. They see other people clearly half assing it and not trying really but they are obviously failing the class and the way I always pulled off good grades amazed them.

At the end of the day, as long as you finish college with a 3.2 to a 3.5 you’ll be fine when you look for that full-time job when you graduate. When it comes down to it, your experience gets you the interview not your GPA or schooling. Employers just want to see that on there because if you have a bad GPA or did not go to school it is a quick way for them to eliminate you. The reason I say do not take college too seriously is because rather than be focused 100% on your grades, you should actually take 50% of that focus and aim it towards a job/internship. I am not referring to a “would you like fries with that job”, I am referring to a job or internship that would look great on a resume. Many students get too caught up in the qualifications of a job or that they do not know if that is something they want to do for a career. There is a secret, outside of a few specific professions (i.e. doctor) no one really knows what they want to do for the rest of their lives and if someone tells you otherwise they are a liar. Ask most adults who are in their late 40’s that if they look back to when they were in college did they imagine themselves doing what they are doing now and I bet the answer is no.

Students should just be going for jobs that pay decently and provide a great experience. For example, if you want nothing to do with insurance do NOT rule out doing an internship at Allstate or State Farm. A basic job at an insurance company provides great experiences like learning how to be a part of a team outside of sports and learning basic office skills like faxing, copying, Outlook, etc. You might laugh but every so often at work I will get that nut with an aol email address who asks for our fax number. Getting that full time job is much easier if you have that solid job you are able to speak about as if its your current career. Of all of the interviews I went on for internships while in college, I spent 95% of the entire interview talking about my current job and my past jobs and that is why I truly believe that college students should take internships and jobs during school more seriously. This leads me directly into my next topic I think perfectly…

“Excuses are like assholes. Everyone has them and they all stink!”

No one is hiring right now, There are no jobs out there that I want, I do not have time for a job with all of my classes, There is no way I will be able to commute to this job in between classes, I am not qualified for this – Those are just some of the excuses I have heard from college students on why they do not have a good job for their career advancement. Apologies by the way for the semi-graphic quote from Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Too many people now a days come up with so many crazy excuses on why something cannot be done and they just play the victim. What people slowly learn as you hit your mid-twenties is that this world owes you NOTHING. If you want something you go out there and get it.

College students can read all of the blogs like mine in the world but if there is no passion to will to do something then it is always easy to come up with an excuse for why. I will bore you with a short story that illustrates how much hard work actually pays off. When I was working as a branch intern at Scottrade in the south suburbs of Chicago during my sophomore year into my junior year at a small private school on the southside of Chicago, I applied to be an Operations Intern at an investment bank downtown Chicago. The managers I interviewed with loved me but there was one big issue and is was that they were seriously worried about my ability to go to school with 18 credits hours and somehow make it to work as an intern here for 20 hours a week and to be honest, at the time I was worried too. With no idea how I actually planned to pull that off, I assured everyone that there would be zero issues with me going to school in the southside and being able to work downtown. Turns out there were somedays due to timing where I went from class from 8-11, then drove 25 minutes to the Orange line off of 55th and Pulaski, then take a 40 minute CTA train ride into the loop, work from 12:30-5, then take the CTA back, drive the 25 minutes back to school for a 3.5 hour night class, and then finally drive home to Tinley Park and get into bed around 11. The days were outrageously long and sometimes when I would show up to night class I would sit down at the desk and stare off into space and think “I seriously do not remember driving here…”

I share that with you to show that if you truly want something you will do what it takes to achieve it. This story also goes back to the importance of getting a job, even if it is not something you are sure of actually doing. My first day was me sitting down at my desk at William Blair and staring at a stack of hundreds of envelopes of returned mail that needed sorting (you can see just a portion of it in the image on this post above). It was a pain in the ass but I did the job and no it was not something I wanted to do forever, but guess what, the most important thing to me was that I was getting experience at something transferrable and this looks great on my resume. I think many students get too caught up on the fact of being very selfish and always are looking for that perfect job, but in fact they should be thinking if it looks good on a resume and if it gives them good experience.

I finish with a confession that this first part might have been too detailed or too wordy for my liking but I think it is definitely necessary to put perspective the mindset of a college student who succeeded based on the above thoughts. My next thoughts in Part II will focus on my favorite part and that is the finances. I will touch on things like student loans, credit cards, investing, and more that should have been taught in college to help setup each student to make them a financially conscious person. Instead we have students graduating college, getting a letter from Great Lakes stating that they owe thousands of dollars to the US Government and they are left saying “What the hell just happened?”