Investing Your Time and Money in College featuring James Cheng

Saving when you’re a young adult can be tough, but it doesn’t have to be.

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I have always been vigilant when it comes to my personal finances. I am fascinated by the concept of investing and having your money work for you, where saving now can amount to incredible future wealth. This knowledge and understanding, however, did not come to me overnight. I have a college degree in business, where I took finance and accounting classes, and a father who works in the finance industry, who I poke for clarifications and explanations about nearly everything! I have found this knowledge to serve me well, especially in college, where I was able to grow my personal wealth through investing, saving, and earning money through internships, part-time work during breaks, and my job at our college library. I wanted to share the information that I learned and knew that my good friend James, a fellow Babson College graduate, would be an excellent person to contribute advice on the matter. James is one of the savviest people I know, who has turned his interest in finance and investing into a full-time job as an investment portfolio analyst at Wells Fargo in Charlotte, North Carolina.

When coming to Babson, James’ initial interest was not in finance, but rather entrepreneurship. Yet, when James took Principles Finance with Professor Bliss he was instantly hooked. Principles of Finance was the first class that James took that he found to be really challenging and related to a subject that he did not know much about. James soon took all the finance classes he could register for and quickly became adept in the subject. One of Jame’s favorite aspects of finance is that he can walk into a room with finance professionals and finds that he always learns something new. Although James still desires to start his own business in the future, he is currently focusing on learning all he can about the finance industry, so when the time comes, he’s got the finances covered.

Applying to College


Jame’s first piece of advice when applying to college is taking the time to apply for scholarships. If you can get a scholarship your ROI- return on investment– will most likely pay off. For example, if you spend 3 hours on a scholarship application and you earned $5,000 in financial aid assistance, you have essentially made over $1,600 per hour of your time! That’s definitely above the going rate for any entry level job I know of! James also adds that when you are in college you can continue to apply for scholarships and aid to help lower your costs overtime. Every year you can re-engage in a dialogue with your college in order to potentially reduce your cost of college, if they feel you deserve more aid. You can do so by accessing your college’s financial appeal form.


In terms of deciding what college will be worth the most bang for your buck, it is also worth checking out the employment rates of the universities you are looking at. This can be found in the yearly reports that the college puts out on its employment statistics. After all, the end goal for seeking higher education, in many cases, is to gain the best employment opportunities. In surveying different options, this might be an important step in your college selection process.   

Establishing Credit History

James & Ursula

Jame’s advice is to get a credit card to establish credit history as soon as you can- the earlier the better. You don’t even have to use the credit card, just get one, and make sure that it is under your name so that it can counts toward your credit score. Establishing good credit for a long period of time is important for things like big purchases in the future- think your first car or first apartment rental- because it shows the bank that you are a responsible person to lend money to. Jame’s first credit card was a Wells Fargo credit card for college students with 1% cash rewards and mine was a Fidelity rewards card with 2% unlimited cash back. Learning how to use a credit card early on will also help you long term in learning how to set up automatic payments and budgeting. 



In terms of budgeting, James believes that a lot of college students could save money by cutting back on excess spending on things like eating out during the week- that $15-$30 adds up! Instead of ordering that pizza 3 times a week, minimizing this spending to 1 time per week and savoring the indulgence can help significantly in the long term. James also stresses the importance of taking advantage of work opportunities, such as work study or part-time work. James and I have definitely put in our time working in college, as James used to work in our college’s fitness center and I in the library. That way, even if you do indulge in a night out or splurge on some new sneakers, having a part-time jobs can offset some of your expenses. Passive income from investing or side hustles can also be great if you are able to seek out these opportunities. 


One piece of advice that I have learned from my dad is to pay yourself first. After every pay check, it is important to set some money aside for yourself to save or invest before you go out and spend all of your hard earned money at once. Think of it as an investment in yourself and in your future. With more money in your pocket, you can be prepared for anything that comes your way and life can definitely throw you the unexpected when you least expect it.

Investing early

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As soon as James turn 18, he open a ROTH IRA (Individual Retirement Account), which is what he recommends you do too! Some benefits from opening this account are that it is tax free, you can contribute to it regularly, and you can save significantly overtime. Whatever you can put away today, due to compound interest, is going to be worth much more when you enter into retirement. Additionally, if you are an international student, James recommends that you get an on campus job in order to receive a social security number. In getting a social security number, you can gain access to the American banking system to begin investing, saving, and much more.


One point that James and I definitely agree on is investing in broad market index funds or exchange traded funds (ETF) over investing in the specific stocks of companies. The reason for this is that passive investing- meaning you invest your money with the forethought of holding for the long term, has historically yielded better results as opposed to active investing- picking and choosing stocks to try to beat the index. Doing this requires an incredible amount of time and energy to do thorough research on when and what to buy and sell. You really have to be an expert in order to be proficient in active investing, which incorporates greater risk in the individual investments. 

Invest in Yourself

Invest in yourself, there is no limit to a potential opportunity.
                                                                                                 – James


Some of the most important advice James highlights is to invest in yourself first and foremost. James states that you only need one door to open to be successful, so it is crucial to put as many doors in front of yourself as possible. College is what you make of it, so take advantage of all of the resources that are available that are free and can help you develop professionally and personally. James notes going to free conferences, getting his resume reviewed, and hosting all expense paid college gatherings as some of the ways that he was able to maximize his time spent in college. 


Similar to James, I took advantage of the many opportunities Babson has to offer. Yet, I have learned that the first step in doing so is to really sit down and do some research. You won’t know what opportunities you can seize unless you find out what opportunities are out there! At Babson, I was able to receive grants for studying abroad and hosting parties as well as utilize the free receive career counseling and resume review services offered to every student. There are so many organizations, businesses, universities, and people who are willing to help those who are passionate about learning, so don’t miss out!

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The above references an opinion and is for information purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.

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