While transportation, entertainment and food can be thoughtless decisions, they have the potential to become million-dollar choices, according to BYU finance professor Scott Marsh.
Marsh is an expert on financial preparation with 10 tips on how students can get ahead of the game financially.
1. Make million-dollar choices
Marsh defined this term as a change in lifestyle that can save someone millions.
2. Marriage choices
Marsh believes marrying someone who shares a similar financial background is important to success. He also suggests that couples take a personal finance class together before marriage.
3. Clearly understand future salary
Marsh has his students complete the Benjamin Franklin project, which has them calculate their projected income and then look through information about job and housing markets to better understand the reality of their choices. Students often realize that it’s unrealistic to live in certain areas or at a certain standard within a given salary.
“It’s truly one of the most enlightening projects that students go through,” Marsh said.
Ryan Pratt, an assistant professor of finance, agreed that students should think about what’s important to them and whether or not their chosen career field allows for an income that can afford those things.
“You should be able to have a sense of, ‘(Is it) going to provide me the kind of lifestyle that I’m hoping to have?’ And, ‘Where does the job progress from these entry-level salaries?’ Every student should have an awareness of what kind of job their major can get them and what kind of salaries those jobs can have,” Pratt said.
Marsh titles his fourth tip HXII, which stands for house and the roman numerals ten, one, one. The formula advises individuals to work towards owning a modest home, set aside 10 percent of their income for a 401(k), use one percent of their income for paying off debts, and have one million-dollar choice.
Plan now for 401(k) or other retirement plan. However, this kind of planning can be difficult for students. Kierea Meloy, a graduate student in BYU’s marriage and family therapy program, is hesitant to think about a 401(k) or other retirement plans because of the current economy.
“With Obama right now and everything up in the air, I don’t really think we’re going to get much retirement. I’m kind of waiting to see what’s going to happen with government policy,” Meloy said.
6. Eliminate debt/minimize student loans
Students should resolve to manage and eliminate debt while minimizing student loans. Marsh advises students to work with a BYU loan counselor to manage student loans efficiently.
7. Simple joys
The seventh tip Marsh gives encourages students to seek enlightenment through simple joys. He explained that eliminating material choices tends to make people happier and more efficient.
“We’re actually going through a period of time when people are no longer saying that it’s the big house that’s going to make (them) happy,” Marsh says.
Many students are instead driven by the desire to have more educational or career opportunities. Meloy explained that her choice to pursue graduate school was fueled by the desire to have more flexibility in her career.
“My potential for earning is so much greater with a graduate degree, and it’s a solid job where I know exactly what I can do but still have flexibility,” Meloy said.
8. Be realistic
According to Marsh’s eighth point, students should be realistic but also be confident and optimistic about the future.
“The future is bright and there’s so many things to demonstrate that it is,” Marsh said.
9. Choose friends wisely
Students should surround themselves with mentors and friends who are positive role models. Observing others manage their resources well makes it easier for students to do so.
While student financing is difficult, those who make smart choices now will be better prepared for the future. As Tanner Bean, 22, enters into his senior year at BYU, his attitude remains both realistic and optimistic.
“Getting through school is tough, but the harder you work and weasel your way into saving money, the better off you’ll be at graduation,” Bean said.
So maybe ditching the theater for Redbox rentals and microwave popcorn isn’t such a bad idea. According to Marsh, small choices like this could save you millions.