There is no doubt that college (and everything associated with being a college student) is expensive and we all know that money doesn’t grow on trees. Some students receive financial support from their families, some get jobs, some benefit from financial aid, and some are completely financially independent. Regardless of which category you fall into, managing your money responsibly is one of the toughest and rewarding parts of adulthood. Check out some money tips I wish someone had shared with me at 18.
Take out loans based on necessity
I repeat…ONLY take out the student loan money you ABSOLUTELY need. It may be tempting to take out the full loan amount, especially when dreaming about the things you would do or buy with that extra money after paying your tuition. No amount of Chipotle, Starbucks, or happy hours can ever make up for the regret you will feel towards that decision when it comes to repayment time. While we are on everyone’s favorite topic of student loans… if you take out unsubsidized loans (meaning they start accruing interest as soon as they hit your bank account), make payments on the interest while you are still in college. DO IT so all of that interest isn’t capitalized when it’s repayment time. More good info on student loans here.
Create a budget
Do you ever wonder where all your money went? Yeah, same… The best place to keep track of it is by creating a budget. This helps you track the flow of money in and out of your account, puts your spending into perspective, and helps prioritize your needs vs. wants. There are some really helpful apps/websites, like mint.com that make budgeting a no-brainer by tracking and categorizing all of your spending for you. You will be able to program your budget for specific categories so you can stay on track. It will even alert you when you are getting close or over your limit within your categories. It’s like your conscience, but better.
Say goodbye to your car (if possible)
If your campus and surrounding areas are super walkable, there’s an awesome public transportation system, or you have a really nice roommate with a car, leave your car at home. This will eliminate the headache of finding parking on campus as well as the cost of a parking permit. You’ll also skip out on the typical costs of a car including gas, tolls, repairs, and more. At some schools, this may not be a viable option, but definitely think hard about this one.
Use the meal plan
Many schools require students who live on campus to purchase a meal plan. If that’s the case for you, using all your meals will help you save money. This seems obvious, but it’s common for students who tire of eating at the dining hall to overspend on eating out at restaurants and cafes. By the time the semester ends, it’s typical for students to have an abundance of leftover meals they never took advantage of. With that being said, if you don’t have a meal plan, we 100% recommend you make friends with people that do.
Take advantage of free stuff
Your new mantra: If it’s free, it’s for me! Free should be your new favorite word. Free pizza, free concert, free tutoring, free printing, etc. Take advantage of all of it! Chances are, you already paid an activity and service fee within your tuition that funds these things! So definitely get the most bang for your buck.
Utilize Venmo, Google Wallet, and Splitwise
We all have that one friend that NEVER pays us back. Cue the eye roll. If you are someone with an especially giving nature, that’s wonderful! That being said, please don’t overdo it, especially if you don’t have the means to do so. When it comes down to it, your friends are not your responsibility. Have no shame in requesting money on Venmo or Google Wallet. Use apps like Splitwise with your roommate to make sure everyone pays their fair share. Big shout out to technology for making our lives way less awkward!
Open a credit card
At first glance, this probably seems contradictory to the rest of our advice, but only do this when you know you have the discipline. It’s important to start establishing credit early, so when it comes time to do super adult-ish things like buying a home, you will have a well-established credit history. Never carry a balance on your credit card, but use it for something recurring like your Netflix subscription. You can even set your bank account to pay off your credit card each month so you don’t even have to think about it!
Choose the affordable college
It may be tempting to attend the big name school with the most name recognition, but if you have to incur a ton of debt to do so, it’s probably not worth it. Be sure affordability is at the top of your “must-have” list when searching for a college. To assess how affordable a college is for you, check out our tips for evaluating financial aid packages.
Managing your money may not be the most fun skill to practice, but it’s an essential learning process. When you are able to achieve financial stability in the future, you will be glad you established money management skills in college. And seriously, if you figure out how to grow money on trees, let us know. In the meantime, check out myOptions, our free college planning service for more tips and tricks like this!