Back-to-College: Spending and Saving

by Yuchen Wu, Student Blogger

When I was a freshman, everybody says “enjoy your college, because it will be the best years of your life!” While that is absolutely true, what they didn’t tell me was that college can be woefully expensive.

flying money piggy and books According to MintLife Blog, the U.S. total back-to-college spending last year was $46 billion, with an average of $837 per student. If you look at the data below, you’ll probably feel the pinch.

  • Average spending by buyers (in dollars)
    • School supplies $77,
    • Clothing and accessories $169,
    • Personal care $93,
    • Shoes $95,
    • Food $156,
    • Electronics $392,
    • Collegiate gear $84,
    • Dorm furnishings $249,
    • Gift cards $175.

And, of course, we need to add spending on skiing and snowboard. If you really think about it, there are numerous items that we need to buy. High-priced textbooks, a new laptop, meal plans, late night pizza, video games, and so forth.

Despite numerous expenses, you should be smart about your spending to achieve financial success that will help you a lot when you step into the real world. If you don’t know where to cut your costs, here are some tips from MintLife Blog that may help you:

  • Get a summer job. With the extra cash you make, you’ll be able to afford doing more activities during the school year. Plus, after graduation, you’ll already have something to build out your resume.
  • Avoid the campus bookstore. Instead of buying textbooks at your university bookstore, where prices tend to be inflated, consider renting textbooks or buying used textbooks through Amazon or another service, at a fraction of the price.
  • Leave your car at home. If you can avoid bringing a car to school, then do so. Long-term parking can be costly. Furthermore, the ever-rising price of gas is sure to put a dent in your pocket. Utilize public transportation and ride-shares, instead.
  • Choose your fun wisely. Movies, concerts, and outings with friends are invaluable parts of the college experience, but can easily eat away at your funds. Before the school year, plan to create a budget for how much you want to spend on entertainment a week – then stick to it. There are plenty of useful tools and apps that make setting goals and tracking spending a breeze.

Hope you all enjoy a great college year!

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New Credit Score Model Makes Borrowing Easier

by Yuchen Wu, Student Blogger

For those who don’t have a high credit score due to reasons such as short credit histories, there’s good news for you.

debit or credit

FICO recently announced a change in credit score that will make millions of Americans easier to get loans. According to The Wall Street Journal, the change in credit score “will stop including in its FICO credit-score calculations any record of a consumer failing to pay a bill if the bill has been paid or settled with a collection agency.”

The FICO score, as I've discussed in previous blog posts, is a three-digit number between 300 and 850 that snapshots a person’s financial standing at a particular point in time. It is important because you may need a high score to be able to get loans with lower or no interests.

Basically, this loosen standard may give our college students more time to pay back loans on tuition, medical bills, car, house, etc. without hurting their scores. Perhaps, that’s exactly the purpose of this change -- boosting consumer lending, especially among borrowers shut out of the market or charged high interest rates because of their low scores.

For information about credit score, read our past blog posts:

Credit Score 101

Credit Score 102

Using Credit Cards Wisely

Reasons and Ways to Perk Up Productivity

by Yuchen Wu, Student Blogger

We all know the phrase, “time is money, used by Benjamin Franklin in advice to a young tradesman, and so we get time = money. However, I think what he really means is that time x productivity = money. This is especially true for those who are cramming while under scholarships.


I’ve asked a PhD student, Miss L., a couple days ago about the productivity issue. Miss L. is working at a national laboratory in Boulder. She admitted that she only needs two to four hours to finish all her work during a day. However, she has to be in the office for eight hours during weekdays. “I couldn’t understand,” she said, that she has to stay in the office regardless of whether the work is being done. If she can use the other four to six hours saved, she can perhaps get a tutor job and earn some extra money, she said.

time is money

In the end, Miss L. raises another question: why are some people willing to use double or triple time to finish the work that they could have finished sooner?


As college students, we sometimes cram for exams not because we are lack of time, yet because we procrastinate. Miss L. said that most of the time we don’t plan ahead, and that makes us lose money, which could be our scholarships, a promotion, or new skills that could help us get more pay.


In fact, the opposite of procrastination is productivity. Good habits help people perk up productivity. According to, here are some suggestions that may be helpful for you to be more productive:

1. Get enough sleep.

2. Grab some coffee.

3. Get an early morning workout.

4. Check something off your list.

5. Talk about something you are passionate about.

6. Write in your success journal.

7. Breathe deeply.

8. Build some momentum.

9. Make a plan.

10. Listen to your favorite music.

11. Take a break.

12. Get up and go for a walk.

13. Positive attitude.

14. Read a motivational quote or passage.

15. Talk to someone who motivates you.

16. Send a quick text to a loved one.

17. Spend a few minutes to do your hobby.

18. Finish a task to done.

19. Get ahead of a deadline.

20. Do something from the back burner.

21. Get some more caffeine, but don’t overdo it.

Talking with Miss L. makes me realize we have to look backwards to check ourselves whether we utilize our time well to leverage our fortune.

20 Frugal and Thoughtful Gift Ideas

by Yuchen Wu, Student Blogger

For college students, budget is usually limited. You may stress over finding the perfect gifts for your friends or loved ones because of money. However, there are many frugal gifts that are meaningful. Here are some suggestions for you according to WiseBread and ZenHabits:

1. Home Movie DVD.

2. Recipe Book.

3. Flowers.

4. Customized T-shirt.

5. Homemade cookies baked by yourself.

6. Lotions or Bath Oils.

7. Photo Puzzle.

8. A letter, hand-written on nice paper, from you.

9. A book.

10. Scented Candles.

11. A baby tree.
  • Baby trees can be planted to commemorate a child’s birthday, moving into a new home, a graduation, or any big milestone. You can find tree saplings for under $5 at the Arbor Day Foundation. Or, with a $10 donation to the organization, you can get a variety of 10 tree saplings. A tree gift is a big win for you, the recipient and the environment.

12. Box of good tea and a teacup.

13. Gift certificate for the person’s favorite hobby store.

14. DIY Pillow Case.
  • Cheap pillowcases can be found at discount home stores and online for under $10. You can also sew the pillow for someone.

15. Personalized Water Bottle.

16. Frame a picture of you with them.

17. A burned CD with all the person’s favorite songs.

18. A nice pen

19. Shaving Kit.

20. An “I appreciate you because” jar.
  • Fill a nice jar with slips of different colored paper, each with a reason you appreciate or love someone.

A perfect gift doesn’t always mean spending a lot of money. The recipients will always appreciate meaningful gifts over expensive ones.

Man giving woman gift.


Money Lessons to Learn in Your 20s

by Niomi Williams, Associate Program Director for CU Money Sense

If there was one thing I could tell my 19 year old self it would be: do not get a credit card--you don't need it! When I was in undergrad, I worked two part-time jobs and had scholarships and grants to help pay for my tuition. Yet, somehow I never seemed to have enough money. In reality, I had plenty of money, I just didn't budget and I spent it frivolously. I loved going out to eat with friends, out to the movies on weekends, having new clothes, etc. And when my money ran out before my next paycheck, I put everything on my credit card--swearing I'd pay the balance off when the bill came due. But something always came up, I didn't pay off my credit balance, and I continued to charge things. Thus began the credit card debt cycle.

And here I am, years later still paying off that credit card balance I racked up when I was 19. Instead of saving up for a nice tropical vacation, I'm literally still paying off the large pizza and breadsticks that I bought 10 years ago. So, don't make my mistake! If you can be responsible, credit cards are an awesome tool for establishing and building credit. The key to not getting sucked into the credit card cycle is to always pay the balance off at the end of the month and simply don't spend more than you earn. Simple, huh? Yeah, I wish someone had told me that when I was in college...

Below are 20 lessons and tips to learn in your 20s, as compiled from Reddit users. (The complete list can be found here. However, as with all advice available online, please take it with a grain of salt. Content was edited for clarity.)
  1. Live below your means
  2. Don’t spend just to spend
  3. Never loan money to friends unless you are absolutely ok about never seeing it again
  4. Never buy a timeshare
  5. Buy a used car instead of new, whenever possible
  6. Don’t give in to lifestyle inflation after you enter the workforce
  7. File and pay your taxes on time
  8. Before moving to a different city for a job, consult this Cost of Living calculator
  9. Consider bringing your lunch to work 4 out of the 5 work days; treat yourself once a week
  10. Pay off your credit cards EVERY month
  11. Be smart, save a lot, but sometimes you need to treat yourself
  12. The most important factor in investing is TIME. Start early.
  13. Never cosign a loan for anyone else
  14. Every unnecessary dollar you spend is stealing from your future self
  15. Understand the concept of compounding interest; save early and you won’t have to save as much later
  16. Do not waste your money trying to impress people
  17. Use a budget
  18. Read agreements for everything that requires your signature.
  19. Open an Roth IRA and max out your 401k
  20. Save at least $1,000 into an emergency fund; then build your efund up to six months’ worth of expenses
By learning what mistakes to avoid, you'll be setting yourself up for future success! However, if you do find yourself making a money mistake, realize that it's absolutely okay and all part of the learning process. If you would like to talk to someone about your finances, schedule an appointment here.