Advice for Financial Success: “Pay Attention”

Coming to college is all about learning. From conducting groundbreaking research, to perfecting your elevator pitch, it’s a given that you’ll be picking up some new skills throughout your time at UW-Madison. However, some of this need-to-know knowledge may not be exactly what you think of when imagining a college education. Take, for instance, learning to successfully manage your own finances. This vital component of ‘adult-ing’ is one that many incoming students learning through trial and unfortunate error. J. Michael Collins, Faculty Director of the Center for Financial Security and Associate Professor of Personal Finance at UW-Madison thinks there is one foolproof way of  avoiding these issues.


“The biggest difference between people who feel financially competent and those who feel a lot of anxiety is paying attention,” says Collins.

Professor Collins suggests that new students build three key habits into their daily routines to ensure their financial capabilities:

  1. Set aside time to check your account balances. Most banks and credit unions have websites for mobile banking that allow you to monitor your account easily from your phone, computer, or tablet.

  2. Know how much money is in your account(s), as well as on your credit/ debit cards. Tracking your balance, as well as how much money you are spending per week/month/etc., will give you a more accurate idea of how to manage your spending habits.

  3. If you’re using a credit card, take advantage of the three times each year you can check your credit for free. According to Collins, this quick, painless process is “like flossing, people just don’t do it.”

The process to feeling financially confident is not a difficult one, according to Collins. “Whatever your normal routine is, building in time to check your accounts, your credit, and your bills as part of your routine is the biggest thing,” says Collins.

Beyond the obviously issue of running out of money, students can also face problems with school/ work balance, managing loans, and learning to be financially independent from their parents. To address these financial concerns, as well as others, incoming students can take advantage of resources available through the UW-Madison Office of Financial Aid, on-campus workshops throughout the year, and enrolling in courses such as Consumer Science 321, “Financial Life Skills for Life After Graduation.” This one-credit course teaches students about topics such as credit, student loans, housing, and more in hopes of preparing them for life after graduation. Ask your advisor about this course or search the UW-Madison Course Guide for the upcoming spring.

Overall, becoming financially literate is a lifelong process. Transitioning from the reliance students have on their parents in high school, to the greater independence they receive in college is only one of the many shifts that occurs in a person’s lifetime. Taking steps to close the learning gap sooner, rather than later, can help students feel more financially secure and avoid controversies with overspending, debt, and more.

Photo source: 1, 2

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