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3 money moves you can make in college to be wealthier in your 20s

Sofia Pitt@sofia_pitt
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While college can offer your first taste of independence, it can also tempt you into some unhealthy money habits. Fortunately, there are several smart ways you can help make your transition into the "real world" a success.

1. Start a side hustle

Aaron Silverberg, who's about to start his senior year at Penn State University, has used his flexible class schedule and network of friends to make money while exploring the world of real estate.

Silverberg is a campus ambassador director for Study Abroad Apartments, which helps students find housing overseas. He assigns marketing tasks to 50 college students across the country, teaching them ways to tap into their social network. "I like learning outside of the classroom much more, and there are a lot of ways to learn while making extra money," he says.

Campus Ambassadors earn an average of $12 an hour, and many programs also offer bonuses for service referrals. College students have an advantage when it comes to networking because of their presence on social media, and that makes them particularly attractive to these kinds of companies, says Silverberg.

The dating app Bumble, for example, hires college students to increase its brand recognition. And Silverberg says many mom-and-pop shops in college towns hire media-savvy college students to help with their networking efforts.

2. Explore saving hacks

Melissa Ridolfi, vice president of Retirement and College Planning at Fidelity Investments, says you'll benefit if you avoid the temptation to splurge: "Clothes disappear, couches get spilled on — no need to spend your money on expensive items that might get ruined while living in a communal college dorm."

Those are words Silverberg lives by. He's an avid bargain hunter and only shops for clothes once a year. His jacket in the picture below is from Goodwill and cost $5, and the jogger-style sweats were $12 online.

College student Aaron Silverberg wearing $5 vest from Goodwill & $12 joggers from Amazon.
Source: Aaron Silverberg

Ridolfi suggests you take advantage of your student status. Amazon, for example, offers students free shipping and numerous other promotions. Plus, if you refer a friend to Prime Student, you get a $10 Amazon credit.

Apple also offers discounts of up to $200 and, if you buy a Mac for school, you'll get a $100 App Store gift card. She says that your student ID can also help with restaurant bills, as many places around college campuses give students a discount.

Silverberg saves on food his own way: Every three weeks, he spends $75 on groceries at Trader Joe's and cooks. (If you don't have access to a stove, check out this guide to 7 dorm-friendly microwave meals.) On Sundays, Silverberg likes to dine out, but he tries to keep the cost below $30.

3. Focus on the future

One key way to prepare for the future is to open a Roth IRA, says Ridolfi. The retirement vehicle is "an increasingly popular savings option among young earners because you get the benefit of tax-advantaged growth over a long time horizon," she says. Roth IRAs also provide you access to your contributions, in case of an emergency, whereas other savings vehicles, like a certificate of deposit, or CD, can penalize early withdrawal.

She also suggests you tackle your student loans as quickly and efficiently as possible, and one way to do that is to skip the six month "grace period " after graduation. During this grace period, your loan hasn't started accruing interest. When you make payments during this six month window, your contributions go towards your principal balance. You'll accrue less interest over time, and that will ultimately help you pay off your debt faster.

Silverberg says he has set himself up for financial success by making small sacrifices and using his time in college wisely to discover his passions. And, he says, it was worth it: "Missing one or two tailgates isn't the end of the world if it's going to lead to something in the end."

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