Do you know someone getting ready for college? Check out these best money management tips for students!
Ah, college life.
Although it doesn’t necessarily live up to the hype, college can be a great time of fun and to learn how to balance all the things in your life (like sleeping, eating, studying, and having fun).
One of the most important things you can do before going to college is get a solid handle on your finances.
If your child is heading off to college soon, or you are the one getting ready to leave home, be sure to get started on the right money path.
If you have no idea what to do, start here.
Or, if you have already started, review these solid money management tips for students to make sure you stay on the right track.
Make smart money choices now and help set yourself up for financial success as an adult in the “real world.”
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Set Up a Budget
First, create a real budget before you leave for college and review it regularly (every week is best, but at the very least monthly).
If you don’t tell your money what to do, then it’s easy to waste it on unimportant things.
Take a look honestly at what you spend your money on, and what you would rather do with it.
- Write down all income (this might include: work study, jobs, scholarship, grants, loans)
- Track all expenses – not just food and rent
- Required ones (college costs, food, etc.)
- Extras (fun stuff – movies, concerts, travel, coffee, etc.)
Don’t forget to track entertainment expenses.
Keep in mind those infrequent expenses that pop up (like oil changes, doctor visits/medicine, etc.)
Starting now will help you learn to manage money better in the future and become a more financially secure adult.
One tip that might help would be to have 3 separate accounts:
Budget your money and have it directly deposited in appropriate amounts into each account. This will help you keep track.
For budgeting, I use a simple notebook like this with one page for each month of the year.
This is often the not-so-fun part of budgeting, but it is a very important piece!
Budgeting includes knowing your monthly expenses.
Differentiate Wants vs. Needs
This is an area that a lot of people struggle with when budgeting.
Make sure that you can honestly differentiate between wants and needs. It’s very easy to rationalize something as a need, but remember needs are very basic (food, shelter, etc.).
Once you have all of your needs met, then you can start to figure out where to allocate the rest of your money.
When I had tight budget, one thing I did was budget small amount each month for “fun” expenses (like $20 or 40).
Then, I knew I could get a coffee or extra snack or buy something small for myself and still have some fun each month. But, the fun budget was only after I made sure I could pay for all of my needs.
Beware of Credit Cards
Getting a credit card can feel like a very “adult” thing to do, but it can also be the high road to a lot of debt if you’re not careful.
Honestly, you should pay for things mostly with cash, not credit. Studies have shown that people tend to spend more when using a credit card, because it “hurts” more and we feel the loss. Using cash can help you avoid overspending.
Be mindful of the downfalls of credit cards and make sure that you do not rely on them.
If you do use credit cards, use them wisely and very rarely!
If you can discipline yourself to pay the balance off monthly, credit cards can be one way to build up a good credit score.
Teaching Teens about Credit Cards
Nothing is more painful than a financial emergency with no money to cover it!
Now is the time to start an emergency fund and put money into it regularly (even a little bit at a time).
You should keep 3-6 months (minimum) of living expenses there and don’t touch it except for a serious financial emergency.
Emergency Fund – How to Get Started
Borrow Only what you Need
Even if you qualify for a larger loan amount, borrow only the amount that you need, because you will have to pay it all back eventually. Stick with what you need to cover your budget.
Set Up a Debt Payoff Plan
I know, if you are not done with college yet then it might seem silly to have a plan for paying off your debt right now, but actually people with clear plans make more progress than those without any.
I paid off chunks of my student loan while I was still in college! This gave me a head start and helped to save money in interest.
Make a plan to payoff debt, even if you haven’t even started college yet. Use a student loan calculator like this one to make some estimations.
When you do start paying off the loan, always pay more than the minimum amount if possible.
Start Investing Now!
The biggest financial regret I have is that I did not start investing much sooner in life.
The power of compound interest works best when you start seriously investing when you are young.
Take advantage of compound interest and open a retirement account and/or investment account as soon as you have a job and fund it regularly.
This book was very helpful for me to understand the basics of investing. It is based on a series of articles written by the author as financial advice to his young adult daughter (who, he noted, did not care for financial books or discussions). He tried to make it simple and easy for her to follow:
You may feel overwhelmed with school and classes, but every little bit of money helps.
There are a lot of opportunities to work while you are enrolled in college. These jobs provide extra income and work experience.
If you can work at a part-time job, do it.
If not, work summers! Even if you work only during the summers, you will make some money and have less to borrow (and therefore less debt).
Earn extra cash and save as much as you can.
Some ideas for making money:
- Resident Assistant
- any campus job (library, bookstore, cafeteria)
- internships (some are paid!)
Makes sure you explore internship opportunities. They can be paid and also can be a foot in the door to a full-time job after graduation.
If you have a unique skill or passion, you can try a side hustle too. Check out this list of creative ideas.
Find Free Money
Don’t ignore scholarship money. So many scholarships go unused each year!
With a little bit of time and effort you can get a lot of money to help pay for college. Hey, if you are savvy enough you can even get enough scholarship money to cover all college costs!
Ultimate Guide to Scholarships
Set Financial Goals (Short & Long Term)
People who take time to set goals are more likely to achieve them.
Set financial goals (short and long term) like:
- save money for books next semester
- pay more than minimum amount on student loans
- pay off loans in the next 5 years
- save money to buy a used car with cash
- start a retirement fund
Post your goals where you can see them so you can stay motivated.
Your student ID can be a key to many discounts.
Local businesses often offer discounts – just ask!
Check for student discounts at places like:
- movie theater
- when getting a haircut
Plus, you can use services on campus for free, like the gym, library, computer labs, etc.
Save Money on Books
College textbooks can be very expensive!
Before you buy brand new, see if you can find them used online or through local avenues like Craigslist or college Facebook groups.
Sometimes you can rent books instead.
When you are finished with the class, try to sell your old ones to another student or at least back to the bookstore.
Save Money on Housing and Transportation
If you are serious about saving money and can manage it, live at home until you finish graduation. This is one of the biggest ways to save money when going to college.
Or, get to know other students (or look for ads posted online or on bulletin boards at your school) and rent a house together.
Use public transportation to save money on parking costs. You can use the travel time to catch up on homework or studying. Schools may also offer discounts or bus passes.
Save Money on Food
Avoid eating out often, as this is the most expensive way to eat.
Find a few simple recipes and learn how to cook at home. Your friends will appreciate it!
If you are going out, pack your own food and drinks to save money.
Meal planning also helps you avoid buying things you won’t eat and is a great skill to develop for the future.
Save Money on Fun
Resist the temptation to keep up with someone else’s fancy, expensive lifestyle.
Many places offer student discounts – movie tickets, retail, local restaurants and attraction – use your student discount when you can!
Do free fun stuff! Host a board game night, watch movie at home and popcorn, or go hiking!
Watch out for fees
There are so many little fees in college (and life!).
Keep an eye on these types of fees:
- automated payments (like Netflix or Apple Music – if you don’t use it, get rid of it)
Small fees can add up quickly, so keep an eye on your budget and expenses and eliminate anything that you don’t need.
You absolutely can save money while going to college by using these money management tips for students. Don’t wait until you are done with school to keep a budget and get a good handle on your finances. What other great ideas do you have?