Take the Fear out of Financial Planning

Guest post by Sarah Dunbar ’16

Most days it’s hard to read through the headlines without seeing some mention of college student debt or the lack of financial planning skills of recent grads. It’s scary when you hear numbers like $1.1 trillion, the level of national student loan debt, or $26,000, the average amount of debt students have accrued over their education. These numbers, and the lack of understanding around financial concepts are leaving students in poor shape to manage their finances after graduation.

I know this sounds bleak, but there is hope! PSU and other organizations provide plenty of resources and information to help tackle this issue. Here are some of the big concepts you need to know and tools you can use to be successful in managing your finances while still in school.

Creating a budget… and sticking to it
The money you spend on morning coffee and lunches with your study group can add up quickly if you’re not paying attention. The basics of budgeting focus on documenting how and when your money is coming in and where it’s going. The first challenge I was given when I started budgeting was to write down everything I spent money on for one week. It was surprising how much I was spending on social activities compared to standard expenses (bills, gas, etc.).

There are plenty of budgeting apps and online calculators, including one from 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy, which can help you set a budget and stick to it. Many programs will notify you when you’re getting close to hitting your pre-set limits on each of your expense categories. Partner up with friends and make setting your monthly or yearly budget a fun activity.

Starting an Emergency Fund
If your car broke down, or your pet had to go to the emergency room tomorrow, would you be able to pay for those unexpected expenses? Most of us would not be able to sustain a blow like that to our bank accounts. That is why having an emergency fund is so critical to long-term financial health. Most finance professionals recommend maintaining the equivalent of three to six months of living expenses in your fund. Another way to determine your ideal fund amount is to calculate everything that could go wrong and have enough money to handle all of them happening at the same time.

Now I know that sounds daunting, but it is possible. If you don’t already have a fund started, build it into your budget as a component of your savings. Start by allocating a certain percent of your income to the fund or by reducing your social/entertainment budget and putting that extra aside.

Value of Investing Early
Most of us think that investing requires thousands of dollars to be effective, but that’s not the case if you start early enough. The real value driver is time. With the magic that is compounding (generating earnings from previous earnings) the longer money is put to work the more wealth it can generate in the long run.

Source: TD Bank Infographics

There are several benefits to investing early, including the ability to take on more risk and learning through experience. Those who have plenty of earnings years ahead of them are able to build more aggressive portfolios that stand to produce greater gains. Similarly, investing early allows you to learn more from the successes and failures of the portfolio and helps to guide your long term investing strategy.

For more information and guidance check out College Investor and 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy.

Student Loans and Debt
Whether you’re a few years away from graduating or if this is your last term at PSU it’s never too early to start thinking about how you’re going to manage repayment of student loans. The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) has a list of helpful tips on managing loans after you graduate. The most important is understanding your loans. What is the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans? What is the difference between Stafford and PLUS loans? This handy chart can help you better understand your loans and what the repayment options are after graduation.

DominoEffect_FB_bannerUnderstanding your loans and managing repayment can have a huge impact on your future financial well-being. Many people are postponing major life events, such as buying a home or having children, because they are worried about being able to afford loan payments. But that doesn’t have to be the case. There are ways you can incorporate smart and beneficial financial decisions into your everyday life and have fun doing them!

Start the conversation around student debt by attending a free event featuring Adam Davidson from NPR’s Planet Money on Wednesday, May 6th. Adam will be discussing the domino effect of student loans and what we can do today to minimize the impact they have on our futures. Space is limited so register yourself and your friends today!


sarah dunbarSarah Dunbar is a Portland State accounting student and President-Elect for the PSU chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, International Accounting and Finance Honor Society.

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Discover PSU’s Advising & Career Resources

Most would agree that our ultimate goal for going to university is to land our dream job, but what is that dream job? And what are the steps that we must take in order to get this job? Luckily for us, PSU offers a variety of career planning resources to help us to not only get to our goal, but to also uncover what that goal is. Read on to discover step-by-step instructions on how to best utilize the multitude of career services that PSU offers.

1. Do some self-exploration – discover where your passions and interests lie.

Understanding what you enjoy doing (and, conversely, what you don’t enjoy doing) is the most simple and understated career starting point. PSU Advising & Career Services (ACS) offers a variety of services to help you discover your possible career interests. ACS can help you with both major and career exploration, as well as the opportunity to take interest and personality tests. ACS also offers a career exploration class (UNST 195), a one-credit class to aid you in deciding upon a major or possible career path. If you know that you want to major in Business Administration but are undecided on a concentration, go to the PSU School of Business Administration web site to explore the various major concentrations that are offered.

2. Begin building relationships – meet with your advisor often, get to know your professors, network with professionals in fields that you may be interested in.

Meet with your advisor at least once a term. Not only will you be sure that you’re taking the correct sequence of classes, but it will provide you with the opportunity to get to know your advisor better – and vice versa. Your advisor knowing you better will likely lead to more personal letters of reference and them letting you know of any job opportunities that they may have heard of. Getting to know your professors is another great way to hear of job or internship opportunities. Put in the effort to cultivate these relationships and it will surely pay off in the long run.

3. Become involved in student organizations (and even professional chapters).

Joining one of the student groups on campus is an amazing way to network – and, luckily for us, we have a variety of student groups to choose from. Each business major concentration has at least one representative student group, but don’t think that just because you’re an accounting major that you can’t join the American Marketing Association. But don’t just limit yourself to student groups – there are plenty of professional organizations in the Portland area. Go onto sites like business-networking.meetup.com to discover professional networking opportunities in the area.

4. Apply for internships.

Internships may be the #1 way to discover if a career is right for you or not. Interning allows you the opportunity to explore a career first-hand. Participating in an internship also gives you ample opportunities to network with professionals in the field. Some internships are paid and many internships can be completed for college credit! Check out the PSU School of Business Administration page on internships to learn more about how to get credit for your internship or how to find an internship through Career Connect.

5. Do (many) informational interviews.

Doing informational interviews is one of the best methods for preparing for actual interviews with potential employers. You never know, maybe your informational interview could lead to a job! Informational interviews allow you to prepare your resume and other necessities, practice your interview skills, and ask a potential employer questions on how to get a job and what a possible career is like. Go to the PSU SBA page on interview preparation to learn more about how to get ready for an informational interview.

6. Use any and all available career resources.

Portland State University offers us an abundance of career resources that we, more often than not, underutilize. Academic & Career Services offers a variety of opportunities, from one-on-one help deciding upon a career or major to quarterly career fairs to workshops, classes, and events. Through the School of Business Administration, we can meet with an advisor to discuss career development or how to prep for an interview. Don’t forget that your SBA advisor is always there to look over your resume or to do a mock interview with you. The School of Business Administration also offers a mentor program to better help students prepare for the professional world. Check out the SBA career services page to learn about more available career resources.

The number of steps it takes to get to your ultimate career goal can seem daunting. Just hearing what it takes to land your dream job can be intimidating. But just remember that university is part of your career path and that every paper you write, test you cram for, and group project you complete is part of this path. Take everything one step at a time and utilize all of the various tools and resources that are at your disposal. Check out the steps outlined above and the various resources embedded. Good luck!

~Mckenzie Miller ’15, Fearless Business Student

Fearless Career Launcher Manuela ’14, Intern at Mentor Graphics

ManuelaLike many of the students at Portland State University, Manuela may not be considered one’s “typical” university student. Manuela moved from Germany to the United States speaking virtually no English and with a young child. But, after many years and lots of hard work, she is a PSU grad with an incredible one-year paid internship at Mentor Graphics. Read on to learn more about Manuela’s experiences!

Tell me a little about yourself!

Born and raised in Germany, I moved to the United States in 2000 with my husband and 6 month-old baby. With no English skills in a foreign country, I felt very isolated so I started taking non-credit ESL classes at PCC. These quickly turned into English as a non-native language credit courses, and soon I decided to begin taking prerequisites like math, reading, and writing. Over the course of the next several years, I had two more babies but was still able to finish the program at PCC, graduating with an Associate’s Degree in Art. One year later, I transferred to PSU and started my studies towards a BA in Marketing.

Tell me about your experience with the PSU School of Business Administration.

Initially I was not sure what direction I would take and so chose Finance as my major, but quickly felt that this was not what I really wanted. The SBA core classes helped me to determine what I really liked and which field I would later choose. I changed my major from Finance to Marketing after finishing my core classes. I would say that I was more of a non-traditional student, taking classes at an older age than most of my peers, but this never was a problem as I perceived PSU as a diverse and colorful place to learn. It took me longer than the traditional student to finish, but I graduated in spring 2014 after four years at PSU.

Tell me about your current internship at Mentor Graphics. How did you discover the internship?

This one year internship takes me into the corporate world of marketing in the electronic field. Actually, I did not discover the position but my capstone professor, TC  Dale, made the contact with Mentor Graphics. I am working for the Market Intelligence Team as a Research Analyst. My role is to perform a wide range of high-visibility research and analysis that support key Mentor Graphics executives, product divisions, and corporate initiatives.

How do you feel that your experience with the PSU School of Business Administration has helped prepare you for your internship at Mentor Graphics?

The way the program is structured helped me to be prepared for the corporate world. I feel that the two capstone classes [BA 495 and MKTG 464] were the most important courses of the entire program that prepared me for the “real” business world. The projects we finished and the experience in both courses helped me to gain a deeper understanding of the corporate world.

What do you hope to accomplish through your internship at Mentor Graphics?

This is my very first position since moving to the US. I am very excited about it, as I can apply all the skills I learned in college as well as acquire new knowledge in the field of electronic software automation.

How has your internship at Mentor Graphics helped you to define your career goals?

I feel this internship is a culmination of all my success and effort during my school years. But I also see this position as a great stepping stone into my future career in the marketing field. I know that I will always love what I do because back when I decided which direction to go, I chose the one that I could identify with the most – marketing.

What advice would you give to a PSU student looking for an internship?

Finishing school does not mean that we have finished learning. We will always learn; we will never stop learning. Keeping an open mind, always being curious about taking a new road, working hard, and always giving my very best has helped me to be where I am right now.

What does “fearless” mean to you?

To me, fearless means moving to a foreign country with an infant and not speaking the language.


Our experiences in life often are the very things that help define our career goals. Each course that we take at PSU, every insight we gain from group projects, and the long nights studying shape what we want to do. Internships play an especially important role in shaping our professional objectives, as it is first-hand experience at a job that we may realize that we want to do (or don’t want to do). More than the necessary job experience, internships give us the chance to meet an infinite amount of professionals who can help us to achieve whatever our dream job may be. So, like Manuela, ask your professors about internship opportunities. Log into Career Connect to see what internships have been posted. And never forget about all of the SBA career resources right under our noses. Go out and achieve your dreams!

~Mckenzie Miller ’15, Fearless Business Student