When your savings account is more like a paddle boat than a cruise ship, being smart with your money might be the last thing on your mind. But now is the perfect time to get good with the green--and the plastic--so you don’t sink your financial future.
Being financially literate means having the ability to understand your financial situation and make smart decisions with your cash. Lucky for you, complex topics such as credit cards, student loans, and budgets can be a piece of cake with a little information and The 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy — a free treasure trove of financial information. Here’s a sneak peak of what you’ll find there.
Credit cards allow you to spend money you don't have and repay what you've spent over time. Because you can spend unearned dollars, it’s easy to spend more than you can afford. Credit cards can work for you or against you…just keep these things in mind:
- Using a credit card wisely can buoy your credit score. If you pay your bills on time and don’t overspend, you can build up good credit.
- Missing a payment or carrying a balance can sink your credit ship. You’ll incur interest (and the rates are usually astronomical) and it could hurt your credit score.
Resources on the 360 site can help you manage your credit cards so you don’t end up drowning in debt. The site also explains credit card lingo like “APR” or “low fixed rate” and even gives you tips on how to prevent identity theft (since everyone wants to be you, obviously).
Your student loans aren’t going to drift away, so it’s a good idea to start considering how and when you’ll start paying up. The good news is that there is usually a grace period of 6 to 9 months after graduation before your first payment is due. The 360 site walks you through the fundamentals of student loans so that you will be prepared when it’s time to repay your educational obligations.
If managing your cash is your problem, try charting your course with a budget. Here are steps to take as you think about your budget:
- Figure out your financial goals – Decide what you want and how much you’ll need to save to get there. Once you know what you want, it will be easier to put together a budget that will help you reach your financial destination.
- Identify your income and expenses – Whether you use a computer-based program or old-fashioned pencil and paper, write down what you pay for and what you get paid for. Check credit card records or to make sure you don’t miss anything.
- Follow and adjust your budget – Your budget could be ironclad, but it won’t matter if you don’t use it. If you need to make adjustments to the budget, make them so that your budget will work for you.
And if you need help getting started, try the student budget calculator. It will allow you to input your contributions and expenses for the school year such (e.g., income, food, transportation), leaving you with a plan you can use to stay financially afloat.
Flex your financial genius-ness and visit 360FinancialLiteracy.org to get a little support. Trust us — your massive bank account will thank you.