“Get your shopping on, at the mall, max your credit cards / You don’t have to choose, buy it all, so they like you / Do they like you?”
So go the pressure-filled lyrics to Colbie Caillat’s hit song “Try.” According to Theresa Bates, a vice president at Santander Bank, overspending is a trap into which many college students find themselves falling.
But not if she can help it. During the spring semester, as part of a partnership between Santander Universities and the Fordham Center for Ethics Education, Bates delivered a lecture to a group of Fordham undergraduates on financial basics geared to assuming personal financial responsibility. She covered three main points: how students can manage their money, how they can protect their identities, and how they can protect their credit scores.
These are subjects Bates takes seriously. In her role at Santander Universities, a division of Banco Santander, she manages relationships with Fordham and other U.S. colleges that receive funding for scholarships, research projects, global exchanges, and entrepreneurship studies from Santander. Santander Universities provides scholarship support for international students enrolled in the Center for Ethics Education training programs, including its master’s in ethics and society. The lecture was an outgrowth of this relationship.
Adam Fried, PhD, assistant director and research associate at the Center for Ethics Education, helped bring Bates to campus for the talk.
“I think it is important for students to learn about all types of responsible decision-making,” Fried says. “Over the years, the Ethics Center has been involved in activities that teach students about personal and social responsibility and how their decisions affect other parts of their lives and other people.” The same moral questions, he says, apply to students’ finances.
In order to be financially responsible, Bates recommends that students first “evaluate their overall financial health and be honest with themselves about their spending and saving habits,” she says. “They should create a spending plan and track everything they spend for one month. This will let them know how they are spending their money.”
Step two: Students need to distinguish between needs and wants. They should “take care of essentials before seeing if they have the ability to purchase their ‘wants,’” she says. “They should also set financial goals.”
Bates says that parents can play a crucial role in helping college students develop personal financial responsibility. Even doing simple things—like teaching students how to manage a checking and savings account responsibly, and how to record purchases and ATM withdrawals—can have a large and lasting impact.
Other quick tips for parents include showing their college-aged children how to pay bills online and how to use mobile banking. “These are great features that are convenient and easy to use,” she says.
But the most important thing parents can do to encourage financial responsibility is show students how to create and stick to a budget, says Bates. This includes using credit cards responsibly and, ideally, only in emergencies. Paying all bills on time is also crucial.
“Students, especially freshmen, may be overwhelmed with beginning a college career while being away from home for possibly the first time,” she concedes. “Having a financial plan before entering college will only help them once they graduate and enter the workforce. By that time,” she says, “they will be used to responsibly managing their finances.”