By Kayleen Bengtson, Business Manager

As a senior in college I am often asked one simple question: “What is your plan after you graduate?” My stomach sinks almost every time as I ponder the reality of that question. I respond with a simple “I’ve got a few options right now” answer. But in reality my mind races with thoughts of curiosity and doubt, especially when I consider financial stability, specifically revolving around one word: debt. To be candid, it’s sort of terrifying. I imagine that I am not the only person who internally worries about such questions, thus after many hours of research I devised a few tips for every college student:

1. Get educated.

This is the best place to start. Often times we want to run away from our problems in hopes of avoiding them, but this is certainly not the time to do that. Take a step of faith into Financial Aid, Student Accounts, Registrar and accumulate as much information regarding your student loans, payment options, grace periods, etc. I would also strongly encourage you to take Dan Lewis’ Give, Save, Spend course at some point in your collegiate career. This course starts from the basics, which means that it applies to every major. It helped me reframe much of my mindset on money and apply biblical principles to my everyday giving, saving and spending habits.

2. Get a book.

Though I have not completed my extended personal reading list, I have certainly done my fair share of reading up on financial books. Here are a few books I would highly recommend:

– “Generation Earn: The Young Professional’s Guide to Spending, Investing and Giving Back” by Kimberly Palmer

– “Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance In Your 20s and 30s” by Beth Kobliner

– “Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom” by Ken Ilgunas

– “The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness” by Dave Ramsey

– “Money Matters: Answers to Your Financial Questions” by Larry Burkett

3. Get a budget.

The best way to get ahold of your money is to track it. You would be surprised how often money suddenly disappears when you don’t track it and how it suddenly re-appears when you do. First and foremost, find a system that works and stick to it. It’s like anything else in the world, the easy part is making the decision, the hard part is committing to it (Can I get an amen?). I use an app called Spendbook, but I would also recommend or an Excel spreadsheet. Second, start budgeting today. There are always reasons and excuses as to why budgeting can be delayed, such as “oh, but I want to start at the first of the month,” or “but it’s a Wednesday, I can’t start in the middle of the week.” I’ve heard it takes 21 days to commit to a habit; take Nike’s advice and just do it. It will also be helpful to think of your budget in percentages rather than fixed amounts- -this is especially applicable for most of us who do not have a steady income stream. Here are some key numbers that might be helpful to remember: Rent/ Housing = 25%, Groceries/Dining = 12%, Tithing = 10%, Savings = 10% Transportation 10%, Utilities/Phone = 10%, Medical = 5%, Entertainment = 5%, Clothing = 5%, Holidays/Gifts = 5%, Misc = 3%.

4. Get out of debt.

A recent Fidelity Investments study found that a shocking 70% of 2013 graduates exited college with an average debt of $35,200. I am not sure where you lie in reference to that statistic, but I want to encourage you all that with strong discipline and intentional diligence it is possible to pay off all of your debt sooner than you might anticipate. Getting out of debt requires us to reframe our thinking of the subject matter; we must pinch and pinch some more. Adding an extra $25 to your monthly repayments will shorten the life of your student loans and save you interest. I would suggest making the payments through automatic debits from your bank account because according to Sallie Mae this will also reduce your interest rate. I would also suggest looking up Dave Ramsey’s “Debt Snowball Plan,” he has incredible insight that will help you build serious momentum to get out of debt.

5. Get an emergency fund.

Financial advisers abide by this rule of thumb: set aside the equivalent of at least three to six months worth of living expenses. Yes, this will take time to build, but make this a personal goal after college. Frankly, we never know what the future holds, thus it serves us well to diligently steward our finances. A money market mutual fund or a personal bank savings account are smart sources for your rainy day fund.

6. Get with God.

Though this may seem cliché, it most certainly is not. The Lord has been, currently is, and always will be our source of provision. God is the owner and creator of all and we are simply managers of His creation. What an incredible gift to look at your checkbook or re-evaluate your budget with open hands and say, “God, how much do you want me to give?” Release the grip of your finances and open your hands to ask God how you can be a wise and faithful steward. Getting out of debt and managing your finances is about more than just personal security; it is about freedom.