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Great Expectations: 4 Tips To Help Students Achieve Their Financial Goals

08/03/2016 03:37 EDT | Updated 08/03/2016 03:59 EDT
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A multi-ethnic group of students' hands raised in front of a classroom blackboard. There are 18 hands raised, visible to the wrist or elbow, and seen from the side of the palm. The blackboard is dark green and has been freshly erased.

Great Expectations is more than just a book on an English lit syllabus -- it is what most first-year post-secondary students start out with. I know I did. I went into Life Sciences, thinking I'd become a doctor. I had it all mapped out from start to finish, and figured it was a relatively straightforward process to get from A to B. Wrong!

My first two undergraduate years were an eye-opening experience in terms of living away from home, balancing my social and academic life and making independent choices about my studies. By the time I graduated, the picture was looking very different. I had thought I'd be heading off to medical school, on track to making a significant salary, and wedding bells would soon be ringing. The reality: I was single, contemplating a career in business and trying to scrape together the means to move out on my own. Not quite what my younger frosh-self had imagined!

No matter how big or small your expectations are, the best way to achieve them is to have a plan.

It turns out I'm not alone. In RBC's most recent student finances poll, we took a closer look at the expectations students have upon graduation. While the majority of students expect to achieve several key life moments -- own first car, draw a great salary, pay off student debt, get married -within the first five years after graduating, those expectations, and the timeframe it will take to achieve them, often changes from a first-year to a fourth-year.

Goals and priorities can, and do, shift from the moment you receive your acceptance letter and when you graduate. Here's what first- and fourth-year students told us about what they saw for themselves five years out of school:

On earning their first $100K:

  • 64 per cent of first-year students expect they'll make their first $100,000 within five years of graduating, compared to 55 per cent of fourth year students.
  • On getting married: 55 per cent of first-year students see wedding bells within five years after graduation, while 49 per cent of fourth-year students think so.
  • On having kids: 40 per cent of first-year students expect to start a family, while 29 per cent of fourth-years expect to do so.

No matter how big or small your expectations are, the best way to achieve them is to have a plan.

  1. Make a personalized financial plan: Knowing exactly where your money is going will help you stay on track for your short- and long-term goals -- whether it's the latest gadget, saving for a car, or planning a wedding.
  2. Save on a regular basis: Developing a habit to save on a regular basis, no matter the amount, is better than not saving at all. Bonus tip: let your money work harder for you by setting up automatic transfers from your daily chequing account into a separate high-interest savings account or guaranteed investment certificate to be used towards your goals.
  3. Build credit: Used wisely, a credit card is a powerful way to build a credit history. Showing that you can responsibly pay back borrowed money will come in handy when applying for a loan to buy bigger things like a car or a home.
  4. Check in regularly on your progress: Goals and priorities will evolve as perspectives and realities come into focus the closer you are to finishing school, so make adjustments to your plan to stay on track.

After I graduated from university, I immediately landed a job in advertising -- and loved it. From the creative projects to the stylish clothes, it was perfect for the 20-something me. For a while, I imagined I'd just keep moving up the ranks and within five years I'd be running a big department. Wrong again!

A few years into my career I realized I had a burning desire to gain a graduate degree. My parents had always instilled in me the value of higher education. My older siblings all went on to achieve higher degrees after university. Though I wasn't sure I'd meet my parents' expectations -- or my own for that matter -- I left my first career to pursue a Masters degree. My MBA set me yet again on a different course to try things I had never considered or thought I could do before. Looking back, I can see that being flexible and open to new experiences is all a part of the learning process and that five-year plans are really just guide posts. The real fun is in how you handle the twists and turns life presents you along the way.

How has your five-year plan evolved? Share your comments below or with us on Twitter: @RBC_Canada

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