Keep finances, stress in check
As a new academic year gets underway, researcher Bryan Ashton offers a handful of tips to help students manage their daily expenses better.
Buried beneath the headlines about the cost of higher education and the increase in student loan debt are more targeted conversations that center on how we help individuals manage their finances day to day during their time in higher education.
Over the past few years at Ohio State, I have had the opportunity to work with students across campus and administrators from across the country. I can say with confidence that finances, in my experience, are one of the leading causes of stress for college students.
This recently was confirmed through research we conducted through the Office of Student Life and the College of Education and Human Ecology. There is a growing recognition that this stress impedes students’ ability to be successful in the classroom, in their holistic wellness and in their co-curricular lives.
National numbers from an Ohio State-sponsored survey instrument show that 72 percent of students report feeling financial stress and over 50 percent worry about meeting monthly expenses (including rent, books, meals and utilities).
As we embark on a university-wide conversation around affordability and its impact on the student experience, it is important to recognize that managing day-to-day finances plays a large role in this discussion. More than 50 percent of total expenses while in school often fall outside of tuition and fees. We have the opportunity to assist our student body in making decisions around the appropriate level of borrowing, how to manage cash flow and how to reduce daily expenses.
Additionally, low levels of exposure to financial education and low recognition of strong financial management practices compound high levels of financial stress and challenges with managing money. And with just under 70 percent of students nationally reporting that they did not receive financial education in high school, I strongly feel that the skill of financial management is one that aligns perfectly with the university motto – “Education for Citizenship.”
To this end, I am proud to have worked with Scarlet and Gray Financial, a group of peer coaches who work to support students as they progress through their financial lives at Ohio State. The program, within the Office of Student Life Student Wellness Center, is a nationally recognized example of assisting individuals in managing their financial lives, helping thousands of students each year.
Our peer financial coaches provide support and education around a variety of topics, including: developing a spending plan (budget), managing student loan debt, building credit and enhancing overall understanding of financial topics. These student coaches not only have a very strong understanding of finances, but also the financial challenges students face on a daily basis.
As we start a new academic year, here are some tips for students:
1. Have a plan. Just because your income may be limited doesn’t mean there is any less of a need to develop a financial plan. This applies to a macro level plan (how are we paying for our education?) and to a more micro level spending plan for daily, weekly and monthly expenses.
2. Develop an emergency savings fund, even if it’s small. This can help to reduce the financial stress that you experience. These can start small ($100 or so), but should grow over time to provide additional financial security. This will help with medical bills, car repairs or even unexpected course expenses.
3. Budget out what you need prior to borrowing. More than 30 percent of students report borrowing without figuring out how much they actually need! Think about your financing and academic plan from now until graduation and use this as a guide to help determine how much you need to borrow.
4. Increase your credit cred. It’s never too early to start thinking about your credit and building a strong credit history. Check your credit report at annualcreditreport.com.
5. Remember the cost of convenience. While it may be very convenient to buy a meal at a local fast food establishment, it is often cheaper to plan ahead, prepare meals and bring food with you. Small things like this add up to create large changes in your monthly expenses!
I firmly believe that the value of higher education and the student experience remains very high at Ohio State. I’ve seen the many challenges that the college years can present for individuals as they work to establish financial independence and attempt to manage money to meet a variety of needs. We are proud to provide support to help our students reduce financial stress and develop a clear, goal-driven path to their financial future.