Did You Take Personal Finance Classes in College?

On Monday, we looked at Financial Advice for College Students, including the Wall Street Journal’s advice to require every student to take a behavioral finance class.

So now I’m curious: did any of you take any personal finance classes in college?

I didn’t. I just searched my alma mater Miami University’s course catalog, and they do offer a class called FIN 101: Personal Finance, with the course description:

Making informed choices related to spending, saving, borrowing, and investing continues to be the foundation of long-term financial security. This course educates students in areas such as financial planning, budgeting, federal income taxes, savings, borrowing, investing, insurance, housing, and retirement planning.

Why didn’t I take that when I went to college? (I am mentally panicking that I did in fact take FIN 101 and have no conscious memory of it. I remember Honors Linguistics and Intro to Ballet…)

However, in grad school, I took an Arts Management course that turned out to be extremely useful. Not because I ever went into arts management, but because the course taught me how to make a cash-flow budget, and I immediately applied that concept to my personal finances.

A cash-flow budget, at its simplest concept (and believe me, I used it at its simplest concept) tracks what days money will come in and what days money will go out. So I set up a spreadsheet, made a new worksheet for every month, and added a few columns for every day. Predicted income, predicted expenses, balance — and then I’d fill in those numbers with actual income and expenses as I received checks or bought groceries.

It was an invaluable tool because it helped me estimate how much money I would have in my bank account a month from now, and if I wanted to do something like, say, buy some new clothes, I could enter an estimated cost and see if any numbers down the line turned red. At that point I had such little income that I needed to know if buying something now meant not being able to pay the electric bill in 30 days.

I kept the cash flow budget up for about two years, if I recall correctly. (After that I switched to a category-based spending spreadsheet.) It helped me manage my money when I had very little of it to manage, and for that I am very grateful.

What about you? Did you take any personal finance classes? Did you learn anything in an unrelated class that you were able to apply to your finances?

This story is part of our College Month series.

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