After graduating college, I was fortunate to secure full-time employment. My family was naturally excited too, but my dad cautioned me that many college students often spend too much of their newfound salaries on things they never could afford before. I promised I would keep that in mind.
Needless to say, I did not listen to his advice. The thrill of a first paycheck was just too much. I spent hard on unnecessary items, the latest Apple products, expensive gyms, and eating out. This drained my paycheck and made me feel financially insecure despite a regular paycheck every month. The whole situation was completely avoidable if I had been more intentional about personal finance and, more generally, personal responsibility.
First change, my lifestyle was unsustainable. I drastically changed my spending habits, and dramatically increased my automatic savings. What worked for me was putting money out of reach. I made sure every paycheck had automatic savings features. This is unquestionably the first step, taking care of the present.
However, just getting control of our day-to-day expenses is not enough in today’s world. Young people need to know that you are not only responsible for your present, but you are also responsible for your future. The days of defined pension plans and secure retirements are mostly gone. That is why financial responsibility must include the present, the near future, and yes, the future forty or fifty years from now.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Personally, putting away the recommended emergency fund of at least sixth months of expenses is out of reach for me now. That does not stop me from trying. I use a micro-savings app to put away small amounts each time I use my debit/credit card to build up that fund, and then those proceeds are invested in a conservative portfolio. This means that $20 or $30 a week can add up to a fully funded emergency fund in just a few years.
Next, I tackled retirement. A percentage of my salary was put away into retirement. This serves two purposes; one is that it is much harder to access these funds. That is great for those of us who too often reach where money is accessible. Secondly, you will benefit from a bedrock principle of finance – compounding interest. If you start young, then you will need to invest a lot less to get the same amount of money than someone in their 30s or 40s.
With the painful benefit of hindsight, I am confidently going into law school with a much more nuanced understanding of financial responsibility. The impending student debt from a legal education is enormous, but it has served as a wake-up call to get serious about personal finance. I hope to follow the mantra, “live like a student” not just during school but hopefully long after as well.
What steps should students take to plan their budget?
- Choose your favorite expense tracking software (e.g., Mint, YNAB etc.) to minimize the time you would spend on a DIY budget platform like Excel.
- Monitor your budget once every few weeks to see if you are staying within your goals!
- Follow an easy, straightforward savings formula that you can translate into direct deposits (50% on living expenses, 30% on wants, and 20% on savings a.k.a. the famous 50-30-20 formula). If you struggle spending, try to put money away in hard-to-reach places.
- Lastly, plan for a small contribution to retirement - even a small percentage will add up!
Moshe is a 1L at New York University School of Law. Before law school, he worked at the Knox County State's Attorney's Office (in IL) where he was able to translate an interest in criminal justice reform into action by helping to create the County's first diversion program. He received his undergraduate degree in business administration from the University of South Carolina. This scholarship will help offset the high cost of his legal education, which will allow him to focus more on my studies and worry less about finances.
Posted in: Scholarship