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Like many college students, Iman Ali and her friends had part-time summer jobs, but they rarely made it to September with much left in their savings accounts.

“We would go out to eat, spend money at the mall for no reason,” Ali says.

But this summer, Ali and four of her friends are taking a different approach and putting their earnings to better use. The college juniors decided to start their own Belgian waffle stand and catering company, Below Thirty 2. “Once we came up with this small business, we decided that some of our money should go toward paying off our student loans,” Ali explains.

Summer jobs are not as straightforward as they used to be. Unemployment among young people is disproportionately high — 11.7 percent for people aged 16–19 versus 4.4 percent for the overall population, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — and lots of students are competing for the same retail and hospitality jobs. But a little creativity can reap rich rewards when school’s out.

Exploit Your Passion

Ali and her friends decided to use their shared interests as a jumping-off point.

Not only does the group regularly bond over pastries and other desserts, but they’re also enrolled in public health and health management studies programs, with an interest in pursuing careers in food management.

 Whether it’s art, food or clothing, if you truly believe in the product you’re selling, there’s no way it won’t sell.

Iman Ali

Ali says that if you’re going to dedicate your summer to any kind of business pursuit, it’s important to find something you’re passionate about. “Whether it’s art, food or clothing, if you truly believe in the product you’re selling, there’s no way it won’t sell,” she says.

Learn to Share

There are no shortage of jobs in the sharing economy. Plus, platforms like Uber and TaskRabbit offer some good life lessons by helping students build time management and personal finance skills early on. Creative types can turn to sites like Etsy (if they’re crafty) or Upwork (to market writing and design skills).

“There are great platforms that do the matchmaking for you,” says Matt Baker, Vice President of Strategic Planning for small-business accounting software FreshBooks. They might not bring in as much work at first, but can be a good way to build a portfolio. “The earlier you get going on it, the better you can set yourself up for self-employment in the future,” Baker advises.

Set Clear Goals

Holding on to what you earn is another challenge altogether. To avoid spending summer earnings before the fall, it’s important to set realistic savings goals, says Sean Pearson, a financial advisor for Ameriprise Financial. “Falling into the trap of saving what’s left over at the end of the week or at the end of the month usually won’t be very successful,” he says.

Whether your goal is paying down student loans or earning enough for school supplies, it’s important to start the summer with a realistic number in mind. Pearson advises students to start by calculating what they stand to earn throughout the summer, what they want to have saved by the time they start the school year, and what they can spend each week without compromising that goal. “Without actionable steps behind it, it’s not really a goal, it’s a wish,” he adds.

Go High-Tech

Today, there are a number of technology tools that can help boost savings even further. The Mint app, for example, links directly to students’ bank accounts and lets them create budgets for everything from entertainment, to a monthly coffee allowance. For first-time credit card users, it also lets students compare what they’re charging to credit to their bank balance, so they don’t run the risk of racking up debt. Investment platforms, like TD Ameritrade and Robinhood, also help students learn to invest with little to no fees.

“Once you move [your savings] into something like an investment account, you can see it growing over time,” says Baker, noting how such positive reinforcement should push you to save more.

Keep It Fun

Saving is more effective when it’s not grueling. Just like dieting, if you deny yourself too much, sticking to a budget will actually be harder. Baker and Pearson advise adding an entertainment line to your budget. Ali, meanwhile, has found her own entertainment in stowing away cash.

“My friends and I are working hard toward something we want to achieve, instead of spending our money on things that don’t really matter to us,” she says. “Personally, I feel like it’s a new kind of fun.”

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