As a college student, you have a lot on your mind. And while your personal finances may not top your list of priorities, they should at the very least be on that list. Here’s why: What you do with your finances today — how you spend, save and build habits around your money — can affect your long-term financial well-being.

Managing your money is a core life skill that can help you achieve your goals and live more comfortably. When you know how to make the most of the money you earn, a world of opportunities opens up to you. Don’t wait another minute! The sooner you start building your financial literacy, the sooner you’ll benefit from your growing knowledge of finance.

What is financial literacy?

Quite simply, financial literacy is knowledge related to financial concepts such as budgeting, saving, investing, and managing debt and credit. A financially literate person would typically know how to create and stick to a budget, which features to look for when opening a new savings or checking account, how to go about paying off debt and how to set an appropriate goal for an emergency fund. More advanced financial literacy might include how to invest in stocks, bonds and mutual funds.

It’s important to understand that financial literacy doesn’t happen overnight; once you learn the basics, you can continue building on your knowledge as your life circumstances require more insight. At this point in your life, for example, financial literacy can enable you to make smart everyday financial decisions (Can I afford to go out to lunch today? Is it OK to charge this pair of jeans to my credit card?) as well as plans for the future (How much should I be putting away each month for retirement?).

You can gauge your level of financial literacy by asking yourself questions such as these:

  • Do I know how to create and stick to a monthly budget?
  • Can I develop a plan for saving for multiple goals at once?
  • Do I understand how various financial behaviors affect my credit score?
  • If I were buying a car, would I know how to compare financing deals?
  • What are the best ways to avoid financial fraud?
  • What are my options for paying off my student loan debt?

Once you have thought through your personal priorities, you can begin seeking information to help you strengthen your financial literacy in those areas.

Why is it important to build your financial knowledge?

Learning how to manage your money now can serve as a strong foundation for your successful financial future. The better you understand the ins and outs of personal finance, the more confident you will be as you build a solid emergency fund, pay off your student loan debt, buy a car or home, invest (short- and long-term) and plan for retirement. Financial literacy can help make your life more comfortable by giving you the peace of mind that you are making smart, informed decisions about your money.

On the flipside, a lack of financial knowledge can make life more difficult. For example, you may open yourself up to a higher risk of debt, bankruptcy, foreclosure or fraud. Any of these pitfalls can stand in the way of the goals you’ve set for yourself.

Financial literacy is like any other form of education: It’s meant to help you improve yourself, make better decisions and succeed in whatever path you choose.

How can you incorporate financial education into your life?

If you’re ready to start building your financial literacy, you’re in the right place! PNC My Finance Academy makes it easy to learn about finances through podcasts, webcasts, videos and quick-to-read articles like this one. In fact, there are a variety of online tools you can use and courses you can take at your convenience. Also be sure to ask questions when you find yourself in a new financial situation: Ask your bank representative to thoroughly explain the advantages of one savings account over another, for example, as you decide which is right for you.

The more you know, the better you’ll feel. Your financial literacy can help you take control of your money and pave the way for your successful future.