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How students can set long-term financial goals

By Jesse Stilwell, January 29 2018 —

Financial goals aren’t on the minds of many university students. But this isn’t a tradition students should continue. The financial realities of adulthood creep up on people faster than they expect and life is filled with unexpected expenses that can derail even the strongest financial plans.

Many of your peers’ nearest financial goals might just be getting a decent job and paying off student loans upon graduation. These are important steps, but having a healthy financial life means being proactive and often thinking of your life at the “big-picture” level. This begins by asking yourself difficult questions while you are slogging through job searches and applications. The first job offer you accept after school often sets the tone for the rest of your career. Be critical of the jobs you apply for and the reasons you are drawn to them. A job that offers a large salary might not come with the same satisfaction and happiness that a position in an area you are actually passionate about will. Even in a tough market like Calgary’s, try to be selective in the opportunities you apply for.

One of the most important questions to ask yourself is, “What do I really want in life?” Try to avoid tying your answers to material items like a huge house, a fancy car or brand-new technologies. Psychology research has shown these fleeting, material things fail to make people happy in the long run. Instead, think about the experiences in your life that have brought you joy and connected you with the people around you. For example, if you love traveling, a high-pressure 9–5 job that doesn’t offer much vacation time probably won’t lead to a different job that does. On the other hand, if you love working with people or children, try to find an opportunity that fosters connection. Jobs like that can be found in almost any field.

This process can lead to some unexpected conclusions. Many students begin university enrolled in a particular program because it promises to lead to a lucrative job with a six-figure salary. But the people who end up becoming rich lawyers or wildly successful entrepreneurs don’t end up on those career paths solely because they chased the money. It’s often futile to hone your skills and get through the long years of school and early career development when you’re not truly passionate about what you are pursuing. It’s better to be modestly successful in a niche industry than one of the millions of failed entrepreneurs out there. You can avoid that fate by being honest with yourself about what you want early in your career. 

This might not sound like financial advice anymore, but I promise it is. If you aren’t hell-bent on amassing huge amounts of wealth and instead look to find paid opportunities that facilitate the more abstract goals in your life, the financial aspects will follow. It’s much easier to save for retirement if you aren’t trapped in a state of being “house-poor,” or always spending paycheques on whatever catches your eye. Setting healthy career and financial goals will enable you to find success as you define it.

Articles published in the Gauntlet‘s opinion section do not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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