College Student’s Guide to Financial Independence: Part 2 of 2

If you missed my last article, “College Student’s Guide to Financial Independence: Part 1”, I went over key mental preparations college students can make to set themselves up for success.

The first three steps in my guide are:

  1. To FI or not to FI, that is the question.
  2. Learning some basics of personal finance and economics can help a lot in your own life.
  3. Avoid the Financial Trap before you are in too deep. Hold back the consumer inside of you.

I strongly suggest reading Part 1 before continuing any further with this blog post. The reasoning being that you can take all the correct literal steps towards becoming Financially Independent, but if you don’t have the right financial mindset, then you will end up squandering all your hard earned money.

In this article, I will be going over more specific steps that can be taken today if you are a college student.

Part 2! Here we go.

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Step 1 – Choose Your Major Wisely – Changing Now Is Better Than Regretting Later

The first step is the most obvious. Choose your major wisely and try to think realistically about how much demand there is for your field. I understand that it is incredibly important to focus on something that we enjoy as it is related to happiness, but it is equally important to focus on a major that is in high demand in the job market.

You can be a Geology major and study land formations around the world, or a Philosophy major and think about life’s big questions. Both of these careers are probably incredibly rewarding in non-monetary terms, but no one is going to pay you a large sum of money to study rocks (relative to other fields)… Be a Geologist or Philosopher on your own time and learn these subject matters on your own.

If you are truly passionate about a subject matter, then you can study and learn about that topic without having to pay a tuition. Find out which text books are used in these curriculums and you can spend your free time learning about rocks, instead of sacrificing your Bachelor’s degree on a major that no one cares about.

A few questions I would ask myself before committing to a major are:

  1. How ‘in-demand’ is my major?
  2. Is my major in a growing industry?
  3. How many job postings are there looking for a student like me right now?
  4. Do I need to go to graduate/medical school in order to make my undergraduate degree matter? There are a lot of pros and cons of going to on to higher education.
  5. Is my major Computer Science? (If yes, then you have a major that is congruent to something I would pick if I went back to school today)

I hate to start this article off with such a cynical piece of advice, but I think it’s important to be realistic about what types of options are available if you are to choose a major that just isn’t a good fit for what is in-demand in today’s society.

Like Petyr Baelish’s advice to Sansa, try to think of every possible scenario when picking your major and imagine how happy you would be in each scenario.

It’s very possible to pick an uncommon major and still succeed in becoming Financially Independent. It is simply far more difficult.

Step 2 – Start Your Career Right Now

Whatever your dreams may be, it is important to start taking the right steps towards them today. If you want to have a high paying job after graduating, try to get a high paying job right now! Apply to internships, part-time jobs, or startups. Better yet, start your own start up or find your side hustle.

College was a period in my life where I had an enormous amount of free time even while working a part-time job. Once I started working full time after college, I realize how many potentially fruitful days I wasted away just browsing the web idly in college.

If there is any side project or business idea you want to dabble in, then there is no better time than college to work on that side business. Once you begin working 40+ hours a week, there will be little time and energy left for anything else.

Even if you are not interested in working on a side business there are always opportunities to get ahead in your career. You can focus on getting an internship and begin building years of experience far ahead of your peers. Don’t wait for Senior, Junior, or even Sophomore year to start applying for internships/jobs.

You can start working today and get a leg up on the competition. I was once asked a question during an interview in my junior year when applying for an internship (with my only professional experience being the 2 months I worked at Hollister senior year of high school); “Why should I hire you when other juniors have 2 years of interning experience?” I still don’t have a good answer for that question today.

So, learn from my mistakes and get ahead of the crowd instead of trying to play catch up from behind.

Step 3 – Make The Right Friends

Friends have the ability to pick you up and bring you to new heights, but sadly, friends also have the ability to keep you down in trenches right with them.

I have experienced both types of friendships during my time at college. There were the friends that constantly smoked during the day instead of going to class and encouraged me to do the same. Friends that would go out on “Messed Up Monday”, “Tuesday Boozeday”, “Wasted Wednesday”, “Thirsty Thursday”, “F**ked Up Friday”, and Saturday. These are the friends that would encourage you to go out with them the night before an exam or figure out a way to cheat with you on a test.

You are better off without these friends.  They are only bringing you and your bank account down.

The other types of friends that I had were the type that would play board games on a Friday night rather than paying a cover charge at a crappy house party. Instead of going out to the bar for happy hour, we would have a great time in the dining hall. Instead of telling me to skip class and hang out, they would yell at me if they found me playing video games knowing I had an exam the next day. Friends like these are few and far in between, but worth keeping around.

I hope you can tell the difference between these types of people. If your friends are keeping you down, then you may be better shedding them off. There are 7 billion other people in the world that may potentially bring you up, you can make new friends.

Okay, don’t “shed” them out of your life, but definitely, don’t let them influence you in negative ways.

Step 4 – Confront Your Debt – Don’t Run Away From It

44% of American’s currently have student loan debt. The average amount a student has in debt is $37,172.

It is important to recognize that this $37,172 is only the principal amount of your loan. According to  Sallie Mae, the floating interest rates can range anywhere from 3.25% APR to 10.22%. This means that the true payment on your loan over its lifetime can range from  $43,588.80 to $59,492.40 amortized over 10 years (meaning you pay off your loan on a 10-year schedule).

That is a potential $22,000 more you would have to pay without it being explicitly stated on your loan details. This is a lot of money! These numbers may seem strange but are true once you understand the structure of a floating-rate (or “variable rate”) loan. I used this loan calculating website to get these numbers.

If the above numbers or calculator are confusing for you to understand, then you really need to take the time to learn about finance and economics. Every dollar put towards paying off your debt is better than any extra dollar saved since the interest rate at which you borrowed is far greater than the interest rate at which you save.

So, make sure you are putting every extra dollar towards paying off the principal amount of your debt.

Even if you are unable to pay off your debt completely, you can refinance your debt using social financing apps, like SoFi, which offer far lower interest rates. You may even be able to use government subsidized debt forgiveness programs that help renegotiate terrible student loan deals into more reasonable fixed-rate loans.

Whatever the case may be, you are better off learning about how your debt is structured than you are hiding in financial ignorance about terms of the loan.

Step 5 – Invest In Yourself, Index Funds, Stocks, Real Estate or whatever – Just Invest!

Investing can seem like such a baffling experience for many people. People simply stay away from the concept of investing without ever trying to invest with real money or even practice investing with fake money. It is literally impossible to become rich and wealthy without investing your money in some sort of asset (to learn more about asset classes, click here).

Even if you are uncomfortable investing in the traditional Index Funds, Mutual Funds, or “blue-chip” stocks, you can still invest in yourself.

You can spend money taking courses that teach you valuable skills. You may take a computer boot camp class in Python and create the newest unicorn in silicon valley today. You can spend money on bartending classes and become a bartender as a side-hustle. Buy a nice camera, lens, backdrops, and lights, and start putting up flyers online as a freelance photographer!

There are endless opportunities available for you to be able to invest in yourself.

It is important to understand that there are always going to be risks in life. The risk of not investing today is losing out on the potential gains that can come tomorrow. Taking a step forward and tripping is better than not moving forward at all.

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As one of my mentors once told me, “You miss %100 of the shots that you don’t take”. My mentor wasn’t Wayne Gretzky, he was just quoting him. 🙂

Step 6 – Take A Year Off – Working Full-Time Will Change You

This is the #1 thing that I wish someone would have told me when I was in college.

You. Will. Change.

It seems obvious in hindsight, as everything does, but I really thought that I found “who I was” in college. I can’t really quite explain how working full-time has affected me literally.

It is more of a mental shift towards realizing that the next chapter of my life was the longest one… called working… forever…

I feel as if I have become more patient in my professional life being bossed around by managers who I may or may not agree with, but ironically less patient in my own personal life as a response to being told what to do all day at work. The natural energy that drove me to party late at night was replaced with 5-hour energy shots and Red-bull vodkas. I never knew how long I could go on about how much more I hate the “tax man”.

Going day in and day out into an office for 40 hours a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year will take its toll on you and your outlook on life. Not to mention there is no summer, fall, winter, or spring vacation…

However, I am not trying to scare you. I am not saying that working full-time will affect everyone negatively, it is simply how you handle it. This metamorphosis from student to adult is just a thing that happens to everyone whether they realize it or not, like it or not.

I just wish someone had told me.

It may seem completely contradictory for an FI blogger to be suggesting to their readers to take a year off during or after college, but it makes sense to me.

Take that time to figure out what you really want in life. Do you want to build an empire and become Forbes 30 under 30? (I do) Or do you want to have a large family while being retired at 40 or 65 (I prefer 40)? Perhaps you simply want to remain off the grid in a tiny home living off the surrounding lands (I also want to do this).

My point is that I wish I did not jump so quickly from student to full-time worker. I would probably end up working in the same field I do now, but it would have been nice to have had some time to explore the world of opportunities just a bit more before committing to a career. Because once you are in, it is difficult to get out.

I always wanted to take a road-trip down to LA from NY traveling across the country in a complicated S pattern. These types of experiences and trips are relatively cheap (to international flying) and seem to be far too uncommon amongst Americans today.

I am actually really curious to meet the people that voted for this President and even more curious what the people are like that keep voting in Senator Sarah Palin… seriously.

This S shaped trip will just have to wait for another day.

Let’s Recap!

Step 1 – Choose Your Major Wisely – Changing Now Is Better Than Regretting Later

Step 2 – Start Your Career Right Now

Step 3 – Make The Right Friends

Step 4 – Confront Your Debt – Don’t Run Away From It

Step 5 – Invest In Yourself, Index Funds, Stocks, Real Estate or whatever – Just Invest!

Step 6 – Take A Year Off – Working Full-Time Will Change You

Got it? Good!

I wanted to thank my cousin Steven for this article since he asked me to write about this topic. It is nice and down-right motivational having readers who are interested in certain topics and would like to hear more about those topics. If you want to learn about a specific subject matter or have any topics you’d like me to write about, let me know in the comment section below! I read each and every comment.

Thanks for reading!

-Jack

P.S. If you found this article helpful, insightful, motivational, or just slightly entertaining, then make sure to LIKE, FOLLOW, COMMENT, SUBSCRIBE, and SHARE!

5 comments

  1. Great post as usual! I think most graduate/medical students (myself included) resign to the mainstream mentality that they are going to be broke until they graduate, but I’ve only recently realized how lazy of an approach that is. I wish I had thought about personal finances more often when I was in undergrad, but this is definitely motivating me now as a grad student! Thanks again for sharing all of this helpful info man!

    1. Good point! I was the same way in college and left with credit card debt because I figured I’d be making enough money to make up for any money mistakes I made.

      It’s a much better idea to start saving early.

  2. I think I found your contribution to education as beneficial and a way forward to excellence for students
    Thus equipping students for future challenge is one great tasks ahead which requires more enlightenment
    yours truly
    Michael Ajayi

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