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By Kathleen Parrish

Like most resident advisers, Robert Cuyjet ’19 negotiates roommate disputes, enforces quiet hours, and serves as a resource for students struggling with the rigors of college life.

But his expertise extends beyond housing issues. He’s also been known to provide financial advice.

Robert Cuyjet '19 stands in front of a canyon.

“Students come to me and ask about the stock market and investing,” says Cuyjet, who was a runner-up in The Motley Fool College Competition. “I realized there’s a very limited amount of financial literacy among college students.”

A government and law major and economics minor, Cuyjet started investing at the age of 13 after reading the book Lawn Boy, which tells the tale of a 12-year-old boy who starts a lawn care business and with the help of a local stockbroker learns the beauty of capitalism. By the end of summer, his profits have grown to half-a-million dollars.

The story inspired Cuyjet, a lawn boy himself who learned at age 10 that he could make more money cutting neighbors’ grass than washing cars. Like the character in the book, he too has a financial mentor: his mom, a senior director with College Board, whose father imparted to her at an early age the power of compound interest.

Armed with a few hundred bucks he had socked away for college, Cuyjet asked if he could use the money to buy stocks.  

“She told me to read whatever I could find and pick three companies I thought would be around in the next 50 years,” he says. It was during the financial crisis of 2008, a harrowing time in the market, but Cuyjet figured he was in it for the long haul. He did his homework and bought Apple, GE, and Waste Management.

Robert Cuyjet '19

The life lesson paid off, and earlier this year he won $1,000 in The Motley Fool contest for his discussion on the democratizing effect of financial technology, which lowers the bar for entering the stock market.

“Previously, barriers were much higher and discouraged young people from investing, and that’s an audience that should be investing,” says Cuyjet, a member of Lafayette’s Investment Club and a peer tutor.

As part of his contest entry, he also reached out to three economically diverse Lafayette students and interviewed them about money management. Even though their backgrounds were different, he says, their knowledge of investing was limited. “I recognized the need for greater education for young people,” says Cuyjet, who’s considering producing a newsletter or podcast for his generation on the topic.

As for the $1,000 prize, Cuyjet put the entire amount in a Roth IRA. “I don’t think of myself as a stock picker,” he says, although some years his portfolio beat the S&P 500. “I think of myself as a dedicated saver, someone who understands the power of compound interest and the value of time.”

Here are Cuyjet’s top five tips for college students who want to take control of their financial health.

  1. Start saving now. “As a college student, you never made money before so what’s it to you now? You should be putting it away.” Cuyjet admits he sometimes struggles with the concept as he’s a big fan of Chipotle and Panera. “I ask myself is my $20 better spent there or on a book or something else. It’s a recent development in my saving ideology.”
  2. Research as much as you can to find the right product and the right broker. Platforms like The Motley Fool, Wealthfront, and Robinhood have a ton of information on their websites and are inexpensive ways to start investing.
  3. Don’t get caught up in the latest and greatest stocks like cannabis, crypto currency, or autonomous driving technology. “A lot of those things are definitely not sustainable.”
  4. Invest in products you use on a daily basis. If you eat Wheaties or use Apple products, it’s a fair bet other people your age do too. Liquor stocks do pretty well, especially in a recession.
  5. Treat your credit cards like debit cards. “I never carry a balance, and I use them to build credit as opposed to buying things I can’t afford.”
Categorized in: Economics, Featured News, News and Features, Student Profiles, Students