Campuses are gearing up for fresh-faced freshmen and returning students this fall. Many college students have a limited amount of money – along with limited experience in managing money. But the opportunities to spend are unlimited! Here are some tips for managing your money as a college student . . . .
1. Learn to budget.
Budget is not a bad word. Knowing exactly how much money you have to spend and what you need to spend it on will help avoid many problems. Learn how to make a budget!
- Review your financial aid package carefully. Student loans are a dangerous debt!
- Determine how much of your savings (gifts, part-time jobs, etc) you plan to use.
- Honestly estimate how many hours a week you can work and find out the prevailing wage in your area. Don’t forget tax deductions.
- Be creative about making money. Tutor in a your strongest subject. Offer to do other student’s laundry or cleaning for a fee.
- Talk to your parents about their planned assistance. Every family will help in a different way – and you all need to be on the same page about money expectations. They might be willing to pay for specific expenses or give you a certain dollar amount.
- Estimates for tuition, dorms, off-campus living, and personal expenses for specific colleges on Collegeboard.org.
- Check out your specific program for tuition premiums or additional tools needed for the classroom.
- Think about the other things you will spend money on during the semester. Know the difference between needs and wants.
2. Embrace the “poor college student” lifestyle.
There was a time when going away to college meant being a poor college student. Money was very tight and most students embraced a lifestyle of limited means. Now it seems that college life is a separate lifestyle and should equal and exceed that of living at home.
- Research where to buy the cheapest books, whether online or at the bookstores.
- Ask around to see if you can buy the book from last semester’s student – or sell yours to an incoming student.
- Ask the instructor if you can use an older edition that is probably cheaper. Don’t rush out to buy all the supplies listed on the syllabus – think about whether you can substitute or borrow.
- Remember to sell your books back immediately after finals week. Some online places like Amazon make it easy to sell books.
If you have a prepaid food plan on campus, use it!
- Understand the dining hall rules – some allow unlimited access and take-away boxes.
- Some campus food locations and local restaurants will accept your dining points.
- Pick the best food plan for how you will really use it.
If you are responsible for your own meals, this will probably be a new experience for you.
- Invest a few hours a week in meal planning and shopping
- Only buy what’s on your shopping list – and don’t fall for the fancy displays.
- Never shop when you are hungry!
- Find easy, cheap, and healthy recipes online.
- Fix in bulk to save and add variety. Pool your money and cooking talents with other student – prepare a good meal and split the costs.
- Don’t waste food. Learn to use or spruce up leftovers – or freeze before it goes bad. Get to know how much produce you use in a week so there’s limited waste.
- You own it – so repair it and wear it out.
- Know your clothing budget to add a few seasonal items or replace necessities.
- Get to know your local thrift and consignment stores.
- Ask to ‘shop the closet’ of a friend for items you only need to use once for a special occasion.
- Protect it! Bring what you own to college and protect it with a desk lock and use those locking drawers in dorm dressers.
- When you buy, get only the features you need at the time. Technology is dated as soon as it hits the market.
- Stay on your parent’s cell phone plan for the discounts – and send them your portion every month.
- Be prepared! Here’s a tip from my college daughter: save all your work to Google Docs in case of a computer accident or loss. You may be paying to repair or replace your computer – but at least you won’t miss a deadline.
- A poor college student takes things from home and accepts hand-me-downs from relatives.
- You can buy one or two new items for your room or apartment that fit in your budget.
- If you don’t have to move out at the end of every year, drive around the outskirts of campus during finals week and check out all the items left on the curb or near dumpsters. Many students and graduates will only take what will fit on their car – leaving big items behind.
For the first time, you are having to pay for utilities on your own if you just moved out of your parents’ house. Here are some important considerations.
- Understand what utilities are paid in the dorm/apartment and what you will be responsible to pay.
- Learn to save on energy by turning off lights and washing a full load of clothes and using heat & air-conditioning only as needed.
- Evaluate whether you really need cable TV if you tend to watch many items through the free Hulu.com.
- Don’t forget – you can get streaming movies through Netflix.com for a lot less than cable TV.
- By budgeting an Entertainment category, you will know exactly how you can socialize.
- Don’t be afraid to suggest other alternatives like a $1 Redbox rental, free events on campus, creatively cooking from the pantry, or a lowest cost activity.
- Health – Understand how you are covered by health insurance and know how to use it – your parents’ plan or a student plan from school.
- Belongings – Determine whether your parent’s homeowners policy will cover you or if it’s better to get an individual renter’s policy.
- Automobiles – If you left your car at home, some carriers will suspend your premiums while you are away at college.
3. Remember to save.
4. Remember to give.
Giving is important. Here are some ideas.
- Give of your time to a campus service organization or new faith community.
- Give of your talent in the tutoring center or helping a classmate.
- Give of your limited treasure.
5. Avoid credit cards.
Credit cards are not the solution to too much month at the end of the money. Pizzas, shoes, and movies can add up quickly. After 4-6 years in college, you can easily be graduating with high-interest debt that could buy a good car. Don’t turn a $20 pizza into a $150 pizza!
You will learn many things in college – inside and outside the classroom. Managing your money is a skill you will use for a lifetime – so embrace this new opportunity to learn!
How did you manage money when you were in college? How do you teach your college kids to manage their money? Leave a comment below!