As a college student, you may have big dreams for the future, such as traveling to all 50 states or owning a house. However, these goals can seem financially overwhelming or unattainable when you view the goal in its entirety. That's where short-term financial goals come in.
Short-term financial goals are objectives that can be achieved within a shorter time frame, usually less than two years. These goals can stand alone or serve as stepping stones to larger ambitions. A short-term financial goal might include saving up for a vacation or a down payment on a car. Keep reading to discover what financial goals students across the United States are striving to achieve in the near future.
1. Build (or rebuild) your emergency fund
One of the first short-term financial goals you should set is to create an emergency fund with 3-6 months of living expenses. An emergency fund is a savings account for expenses you can’t always predict, such as car repairs, medical bills, and job loss. Once you dip into your fund, it should be replenished in case of future emergencies. A Vorhees University student shares his goal to build his emergency fund back up:
“Supporting my family during a period of unemployment has drained my emergency savings fund. Rebuilding those savings is vital to prepare for unexpected costs and provide a financial buffer…My goal is to build my emergency savings back up to 6 months of living expenses within 2 years.”
2. Improve your financial literacy
Financial literacy is the ability to understand money concepts. This includes knowing how to follow your budget, use a credit card wisely, save for retirement, etc. Once you understand these concepts, you’re better able to make informed decisions about managing your money. Typically, financial education isn’t taught in schools, making students responsible for educating themselves on personal finance.
The more you learn about money and how to use it, the better your relationship with money will be. You can improve your financial literacy by reading personal finance books, listening to money podcasts, or following financial education pages on social media. Some examples of short-term literacy goals could be reading one personal finance book per month or listening to a finance podcast episode during long car rides.
3. Save up to study abroad
When you study abroad, you get to immerse yourself in a different culture. In a foreign country, you’ll get the opportunity to make friends with locals, eat amazing food, learn a new language, and explore your surroundings. Before you travel abroad– whether it’s for fun or school– you’ll need to start saving for your trip. University of Central Florida Student Anika shares her savings goal for studying abroad:
“In about a year, I plan to study abroad through an exchange program for a whole semester in the spring. A financial goal I hope to accomplish shortly because of this is to have at least $6000 in savings by next December to ensure I can put myself through this program with no financial stress.”
University of Central Florida
4. Start a side hustle
Cutting back on expenses is not always enough to make ends meet in college. There are times when you also need to increase your income. However, traditional part-time jobs might not be feasible with your class schedule as a student. Luckily, there are plenty of side hustles for college students that fit your schedule and passions.
You could consider opportunities such as tutoring, babysitting, or freelancing to earn some extra cash while pursuing your education. The extra money that you make from your side hustle can help you reach your financial goals at a faster pace. Your short-term goal might be to make $100 from your side hustle within the next month.
5. Live within your means
In college, it’s easy to try to keep up with the lifestyles and spending habits of the people around you. Financial peer pressure can cause you to spend money that you don’t have on goals that may not be important to you. Instead, you should try to live according to your personal budget. Reid from the Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College shares how he will try to live within his means:
“My main financial goal at present is to stay within my budget as I continue my education. I work during breaks and summers, and I save as much money as I can. I want to be able to continue to help my parents as much as possible as they ‘foot the bill’ for my college education.”
Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College
6. Pay off credit card debt
Perhaps you needed to use your card in an emergency or got a little carried away with impulsive spending. Whatever the reason for your credit card debt, it’s best to eliminate any high-interest debt as quickly as possible. Setting the financial goal to pay off your debt can improve your well-being.
You should always aim to make the minimum credit card payment each month. Strive to make additional payments whenever you can. This will allow you to pay less money in interest in the long run. Your goal could be to pay double the minimum payment on your credit card debt for the next 12 months.
7. Buy a car
As a student, you don’t need a car to have a fulfilling college experience. However, buying a car can give you access to places and events off campus that weren’t feasible before. Whether you buy a used car outright or use a loan, purchasing a vehicle gives you freedom. Katherine, a State College of Florida student, shares why purchasing a car is important to her:
“A financial goal I plan to accomplish in the near future is purchasing a car between the price range of $6,000 to $12,000. This goal is important to me because of the potential to enhance my overall quality of life, provide convenience, and contribute to my financial well-being.”
State College of Florida
8. Improve your credit score
Building a good credit score is crucial to prove your financial responsibility to lenders. Luckily, there are many ways to build credit as a student. You can get a credit card, manage student or personal loans, or become an authorized user of someone else’s card.
No matter which method you choose, your payment history is one of the most important factors in determining your credit score. To boost your score, ensure that you make payments on time every month, as a single missed payment can potentially decrease your credit score. A short-term goal example could be to raise your credit score from 640 to 740 over the course of one year.
9. Save for retirement
Saving for retirement can be both a short- and long-term financial goal. However, it’s never too early to begin retirement contributions. One easy way to save is to automate part of your paycheck to go into a retirement account. If your employer offers a 401(k) plan with matching benefits, make sure you take full advantage. A University of Michigan student shares her short-term financial goal of learning more about her employer-matched retirement options:
“We recently attended 401k Education Meetings at the company I work for, and the presenter shared a chart of the average 401(k) balance by age…When the meeting concluded I was left with an unsatisfying feeling. In the near future, I hope to accomplish saving for retirement and gaining a better understanding of my 401(k).”
University of Michigan-Dearborn
10. Start saving a down payment for a house
Buying a home might seem daunting for college students. Luckily, the home-buying process can be made more manageable by starting to save for the down payment. First, create a budget to determine a realistic monthly savings amount. Then, you should open a new savings account specifically for your down payment.
The journey to homeownership is a long process. Yet, when you meet your goal, you’ll be one step farther away from communal dorm showers and noisy apartment neighbors. To save for your down payment, your short-term goal could be a fun savings challenge or setting up an automatic savings transfer from your checking account.
11. Graduate debt free
A college education is expensive, but it doesn't have to be a financial burden. Working during school, applying for numerous scholarships, and cutting back on non-essential expenses can reduce the amount of debt you accumulate. Kaden shares his short-term goal of graduating from college without any debt:
“My next financial goal is to save and earn enough to graduate college debt-free. Many people assume student loans are necessary to get through college, but I believe they can be avoided with financial planning.”
12. Begin Investing
Investing involves purchasing assets with the expectation that the asset’s value will increase in the future. You can invest in the stock market, money market accounts, mutual funds, real estate, and more. Although there is the potential to make money while investing, there is also a risk of losing money.
Before investing, do your research. If you're unsure which type of investment portfolio is best for you, it may be beneficial to work with a financial advisor. They can provide guidance and help you make informed decisions about your investments. Start small and be patient; don’t expect to get rich quickly.
Your college years are a great time to set achievable financial goals that can help build a foundation for your future. These short-term and long-term goals will help you develop positive money habits and face the financial challenges of student life. Whether your short-term goals include saving for emergencies, paying off debt, or adopting a pet, meeting these goals can give you the confidence and control you need to take charge of your finances. Remember, building financial stability is a journey that starts with the small, intentional steps you take today.
🖌️Want to brush up on your financial knowledge? Check out 8 Things Every College Freshman Should Know About Money.
🤑It might take a hundred short-term goals to reach a million dollars, but it's never too early to daydream about What You Would Do with that Million Dollars.