One of the great joys and privileges of college life is independence. Feel like a donut at 3:00 a.m.? Go get it! Cocoa Puffs for dinner? You’re an adult! Want to have a massive whipped cream fight with your friends at night? Have fun—and stay out as late as you want. It is truly glorious.
But with independence comes responsibility, and deciding how you’re going to relate to your money is one of the most important responsibilities that comes with the independence you enjoy as a college student.
Money is actually a huge discipleship issue as well; the Bible has a lot to say about it. Yet many of us don’t devote any time or energy to thinking intentionally about money in college. As a result, many of us make mistakes that send us down the wrong path when it comes to our relationship to money.
I made three major money mistakes in college, and I see students repeating them again and again. These mistakes can reverberate long into the future.
Mistake #1: Relying on a Credit Card
Credit cards seem awesome. They’re convenient, and they let me spend more money than I have in my bank account. Plus, airline miles! Win! Whenever I didn’t have the cash, I put stuff on my card assuming my parents would help me pay it off, or that I’d figure it out in the future.
I didn’t count on graduating with a bunch of debt that my parents couldn’t help with because of their own financial problems. So I carried that debt out of college and eventually into my marriage—and it hurt my ability to use money well in other places.
Mistake #2: Not Budgeting
To be a good steward of your money you have to decide where your money is going to go and then develop the discipline to stick to the plan you created. You’re probably thinking, “Budget? Lame. Way to take all the fun out of money.” Not so!
Budgeting well means you can save for all sorts of fun things—cars, vacations, random acts of generosity. I actually have a “fun” category in my budget that is, well, fun to spend. In fact, because my wife and I have budgeted well, we’re going to get to go on an awesome family vacation to Europe next year.
Developing a plan for your money can seem daunting, I know, but there are a ton of resources out there. I suggest talking to an older and wiser adult, and using a tool like Mint.com to set up and keep track of your budget!
Mistake #3: Not Cultivating Generosity
The Bible has a lot in it about generosity, and about God’s desire for his people to be generous. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking, It will be easier to be generous when I make a lot of money after I graduate. I don’t need to worry about giving money now. But it’s possible to be generous at any income level. And the truth is that it’s rare for generosity to come naturally. If you want to be really generous some day, you have to start being generous now.
This might surprise you, but vocational ministry doesn’t exactly fall in the category of a “get rich quick” scheme. But when my wife and I set up our budget, giving 10 percent was non-negotiable. You think a “fun budget” is fun? Giving away money to people and causes you believe in can be even more fun. We even have a portion of giveaway money that’s not committed to anything in particular, and we’ve been able to give that to friends going through tough times. As we’ve done this, it’s been amazing to watch God change my character to be more generous through this discipline.
These may seem like small decisions, but they’re powerful. Ultimately, learning and living out these lessons will lead to much less heartache, and will give God the space to use you in powerful ways to bless others.
Matt Meyer and his wife, Bekah, are planting an InterVarsity chapter at Ventura College in California. Matt blogs on life and ministry at kingdomintersect.wordpress.com.