Finance Tips for College Students

Family Matters: Financial Life

The college years are part of one’s transition to adulthood, and that transition needs to include a shift from financial dependence on one’s parents to financial independence.

The principles for succeeding with life and money haven’t changed over the years, but the culture has. Those societal changes make it more difficult to make the right choices, especially for young adults.

Rampant consumerism and consumer credit lead to spiritual and financial bondage rather than true freedom, yet many are caught in their grasp. The average college student graduates with more than $4,000 in credit-card debt and about $27,000 in student loans.

What steps can you take to make your transition to financial responsibility a smooth one? Start by embracing the Church’s teaching on being a steward of Providence (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2404). This teaching recognizes that God is the ultimate creator and owner of all that exists and that he has made us his stewards, or managers. We should all strive to live so as to hear the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

What are the characteristics of a faithful steward? Here are some of the key attributes:

Keeps God first. Priorities and decisions are informed by the teachings of Christ and his Church (Matthew 6:24).

Recognizes the inherent value and dignity of work. Strives to grow and use his God-given talents in ways worthy of the Lord (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).

Is generous in attitude and action. While giving a tithe (10%) isn’t a legal requirement of the Church, it’s a good rule of thumb to consider when determining how to fulfill the obligation we do have of supporting the Church and her works (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).

Learn basic financial skills — what I call “Financial Planning 101.” This includes how to create and manage a financial plan (Luke 14:28-30).

Learn how to save for future obligations (including reserve funds), which means being able to say No to something today in order to provide for higher priorities down the road (Proverbs 13:11).

Understand the difference between productive and unproductive debt (Proverbs 22:7). Limit student loans to an amount that can be considered productive. Avoid all unproductive debt. If you currently have unproductive debt, develop an aggressive repayment strategy.

If you are courting someone or preparing for marriage, make sure to include money issues as part of the discernment and preparation process. It’s critical that there be unity in marriage (Genesis 2:24) with money issues, and that unity should revolve around the principles of being a steward of Providence.

Living as a steward of Providence will not only help you achieve financial peace, but even more important, it will help you to live your life in ways that honor the Lord. God love you!


Phil Lenahan is president of Veritas Financial Ministries (

and author of 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free: A Catholic Small Group Study (OSV)

and Generation Next: A Catholic Guide to Financial Freedom for Young Adults.