You never thought you would live out the broke-college-student stereotype until you are staring in your fridge and wondering if you can trick your brain into thinking that string cheese is an adequate meal. Between going to classes, being involved with different organizations, working, etc., our lives can get pretty hectic and staying on top of our finances is not usually the first thing on the to-do list.


I talked to Brad Barnett, who is famous on campus for answering student’s financial questions. He gave some insight and advice on how to make every dollar count.

Q: What are some common financial errors you see with college students?

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 3.19.23 PMA: This could be a large article all by itself. As simple as it sounds, this really all comes down to not budgeting, or not effectively budgeting. That leads to overspending, taking out unnecessary student loans, credit card debt, and general financial stress. We teach the process of using a zero-based budget, which is giving every dollar a name (purpose) before the month begins so you go into the month will all your money already allocated towards your goals and values. If you do this, the things that are truly important to you will stay on the list, and the things that aren’t will drop off. However, very few students actually do budgeting like this.

What I continue to see with students is a lot of money spent on social activities and food. In many cases a student could eat out less, or no student loan money if they cut back on those items.

Q: Is it necessary for college students to have budgets? Should they wait until they have “real jobs” after they graduate?

Budget now. If you spend any money, you should budget. To really be financially responsible and win with money you should not spend more money than you have during any given month. If you only have $100, then budget for it so you get the most out of that $100. If you have $1,000, then do the same. Not having a regular form of income and/or job is not a good excuse to avoid budgeting. Life will only get more complicated the older you get, so if you learn how to budget now when you have fewer expenses, then it will be easier to make the transition to life when you have a “real job,” meaning you have a great chance to be successful with your money.

Q: Is FAFSA the only way to receive college aid?

No. The FAFSA is the only way to apply for federal and state aid, but students can research scholarships and other forms of aid via other resources. You can find some of this information on our website here.

Q: What are some resources/classes at JMU that can help students learn how to be smarter with their money?

I’ve been teaching personal finance classes here for several years. These are real life, practical classes that teach students what most people need to know in order to handle their finances. It’s not a theoretical class or investment class, but a class that looks at personal finances from a holistic point of view. We do cover investments, but we also cover many other topics. The classes are:

  • UNST 475 Dollars and Sense in the Fall and Spring terms
  • UNST 390 Personal Money Management Over the Intercession (Online)
  • UNST 490 Advanced Special Studies in University Students – Personal Money Management during the 1st four 4 week summer block (Online).
  • While I don’t teach this class, GBUS 160 also has a strong personal finance undertone to its curriculum. There are generally multiple sections offered in the Fall and Spring terms.



Brad also helped bring the event Winning With Money to JMU last April. This TED-inspired discussion highlighted 4 key areas of financial literacy that would be relevant to current students and young alums. You can check out these four talks here:





Trust me… Save these links!

Money management may seem daunting, but taking even the smallest steps can make an impact in the long run. Luckily, JMU offers many resources to get you on your feet before you head out into the real world.

Are you managing your money efficiently? Do you have a trip that helps you stay on top of everything? Let us know in the comments below!

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