Halfway through my last semester of college I realized that I didn’t know a thing about handling money. My parents had paid for my education, and the money that I did spend came from them too. I started to freak out. The “real world” loomed large, and I had no clue how to be an adult.
Going on the advice of one of my younger, money-savvy friends, I decided to start auditing a consumer finance class on campus. The professor was a spitfire; a small wiry woman with dark hair and enough money in the bank to buy the entire college that I attended. I decided it would be a good idea to learn from her, so I sat in on the class. I felt like an idiot. She would start talking about CD’s and the APR on a mortgage, and I had absolutely no idea what the acronyms coming out of her mouth meant.
In most of my other classes, I would have been content to smile and nod, dutifully taking notes on topics I did not comprehend. However, with my final semester of college ohmigosh-I-have-to-be-an-adult-soon mentality, I unabashedly raised my hand, asking the most elementary questions about money, savings accounts, insurance and the stock market. It was humiliating, but it was also one of the best moves I’ve ever made in my life. Fear drove me to learn, but I wish I would have known this stuff way before I had to actually try it out for real. Here are the lessons that anyone in a similar place needs to know about money:
1. You can’t go the road alone. You need someone to help you figure everything else out. For me it meant taking a class. For you it might be reading a book, like Kiplinger’s Practical Guide to Your Money.
2. Get to know your banker. When you open your own checking account at a bank, sit down and talk. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Form a relationship with your banker—it will help to have someone in the business that knows you and can explain things to you. My banker is on my speed dial.
3. Talk to a financial advisor, regardless of how much money you have. It’s important to know your options about saving money, investing money and spending money. At different stages in life, there are some options that are better than others. A financial advisor can help you figure out your financial status and needs. (At most local banks, financial advisors are a free service, so there’s no reason not to go!)
4. Budget. A nasty but necessary little world, this will save you a great deal of stress, if you stick to it. It may mean a few less lattes or iTunes, but when you can finally pay off your student loans or buy your own condo, you won’t even remember all the little sacrifices you made along the way.
5. Honor the Provider. God did not give us money so that we can hoard it or spend it obsessively. As Christians, we are to ask him how He wants us to steward the money that He has given to us. Part of that means being open-handed enough to tithe and share with others. Check out Malachi 3:10 — God promises to bless us if we seek to bless Him, and unlike stocks and bonds, God always comes through on his promises. He’s the best investment we can make.