Throughout my time in college, I served as president of a number of clubs and organizations, including the student government for a term. I was regularly approached by administrators and staff for my thoughts and suggestions. During my last couple of years, I dabbled with entrepreneurial ideas, and I authored a book in my final year that offers advice and resources to fellow college students. I can go on and on with what I see as my accomplishments and highlights during this period in my life.
Now nearly 28 years old and roughly three and a half years out of college, I’m a freelance journalist, candidate for public office, and president of an online marketing firm, which I co-founded with a couple college pals. I serve on a number of boards and committees and am fairly well-known in my community.
But even with all of these successes and adventures under my belt at a relatively young age, I genuinely feel I could have accomplished even more by now had I utilized the following ideas either earlier on or more consistently. I simply didn’t “get” many of the following concepts until the final third of my six-year college experience.
I would have saved or invested more…and consistently
(Disclaimer: I’m not a financial advisor. The following statements are merely based on my own opinions, and you should seek out the advice of a financial advisor to see what your options are.)
Do you have a $50-75 you could spare per month?
For many college students, this may sound like a tough one. My work history through college was sparse and the pay low. However, if I really wanted to, I still could have made this work.
Chances are you do have upwards of $50-75 per month you could spare and don’t even realize it. All it takes is skipping the bar scene for one weekend a month or cutting back on your fancy coffee habit at the tune of $3-5 per crack. If possible, try to pick up an extra hour or two at your job per week. The federal minimum wage stands at $7.25 per hour as this is being written. For the sake of both easy math here and the accounting for of payroll taxes, let’s lowball that rate by calling it an even $6. An extra hour per week gives you an additional $24 per month; two hours per week nets you another $48. Most likely, that extra 4-8 hours per month would have been wasted on Facebook, IM, texting, drinking, or any other number of unproductive things.
Following are a few ideas to make this money work for you. Try one or even more, if you can.
Buy a whole-life insurance policy that will build cash value. Age is on your side with this – the younger you are when you buy into a policy, the lower your premiums. Good health in addition to youth is even better. Depending on what life insurance company you work with, you may be able to have the premiums electronically withdrawn from a checking or savings account each month.
Buy into stocks or mutual funds through a financial advisor. Again, depending on who you work with, you may be able to set this up as a monthly arrangement from your checking or savings account.
Buy savings bonds.
Put 10% of your income into a savings account. After you’ve accumulated anywhere from a few hundred to a thousand dollars or so, dump it into something with a better return on investment.
I would have done more networking earlier on
I wasn’t really exposed to the concept of networking until my final two years, and I encourage all students to start doing it as soon as possible, even freshmen.
And contrary to the advice you’ll probably receive from your college’s career services department, don’t place all your energy on networking with job recruiters and mid-level managers from the major companies in your area. Actually, I wouldn’t really give them any attention at all. They’re usually too bombarded by other people to the point where you’re just another face.
I’ve found that networking with small business owners produces far better results when it comes to job prospects and potential business ventures. Chances are you already know a few of these people. Perhaps they’re family members or friends of family. Maybe they’re family members of friends and classmates, or friends of friends. Whatever the case, everyone knows someone, either directly or through someone else.
So start by actually networking with your friends and classmates, and see who you have connections with through your family and friends of family. Branch out from there.
I would have developed the entrepreneurial bug in me a lot sooner
There are so many opportunities for people to make money at things they genuinely love to do, it’s unbelievable.
If you enjoy creating content (like writing articles or stories, putting together presentations, or making videos), there are many avenues open to you for building your portfolio, gaining an audience, and making some decent spare cash, all at the same time. If you’re gifted in the graphic arts, there’s Cafepress.com, which allows you to sell your designs on just about anything from mugs to t-shirts.
Do you have skills in Web and graphic design, video, copy writing, search engine optimization, or programming? Check out sites like Elance or ITeezy, which allow you to sell your services to individuals, businesses, or organizations looking for IT help.
I just wish I discovered a lot of these opportunities and ideas much earlier than I did.
By following simple strategies like this, you are making your future a lot brighter, a lot faster.