When I look back at my college life, I’m proud of how much I accomplished in those four years. I made friends early on, joined organizations on campus, participated in internships and experienced a lot of personal growth along the way. However, one practical skill I wish I’d picked up earlier in my college career was personal finance. I wish I had asked the right questions and developed an interest sooner.
Personal finance is something that a lot of students struggle with. After graduation, I quickly learned the importance of budgeting and using money responsibly, as new bills piled up. Now working in a financial institution, I learn something new every day. Whether you receive support from your family or are completely independent, I hope these tips will help you to save money and stay out of trouble.
15 Tips for Managing Your Money in College
1. Take advantage of student discounts and free resources on campus.
Any time you plan to spend money, bring your student ID along for the ride. Local retailers, restaurants and other vendors may offer student discounts that will cut down your expenses, and it never hurts to ask. Some nearby museums and attractions may even offer free admission for college students. It’s easy to find out simply by googling “free and cheap things to do in ____.”
On campus, you can save money as well. Use the university’s gym instead of purchasing a membership elsewhere, or join an intramural team. Instead of hitting the mall on a beautiful summer day, spend some time by the university’s pool. You already pay for these resources through your student activity fees. Why not make the most of them?
2. Attend workshops.
Chances are, at least one organization on campus offers free workshops on financial topics that are important to college students. Go to the ones that fit your schedule. Different institutions may offer slightly different advice, but the more you attend, the more you learn. Take good notes and ask questions. By familiarizing yourself with these concepts now, you’ll do a better job preparing for the future.
3. Don’t buy new textbooks from the university bookstore.
This is how to guarantee you’ll pay the most for your books. Instead, you have a few options. Use sites like Amazon to get new books at a cheaper rate, especially if you do so through their private booksellers, or you can buy used. You can rent books, either through your university or through sites like Chegg. My college hosted book buyback as well, where students could advertise old textbooks of theirs at the prices they selected on their own, and others could purchase through that same program. If your university has a program like this, it’s a great way to save money on textbooks and get a little cash back. If not, consider starting one yourself!
4. Join a credit union.
I may be a little biased, but credit unions generally pay higher interest on your savings accounts and charge lower interest on loans. They offer everything a bank would offer, but because they are not-for-profit, there are usually fewer fees. Many universities have their own credit unions that students can join and receive special perks or student products, like accounts with no monthly fees. Even if you don’t join a credit union, make sure you know what types of fees your institution will charge so that you can avoid them!
5. Join something accessible.
Whether you are a credit union member or you prefer using a bank, make sure that you can access your money easily. Does your institution have branches nearby? Do you know where to find the nearest ATM? Do they offer mobile or online banking? Make sure you have the answers to these questions before you commit.
6. Avoid foreign ATM fees whenever possible.
The solution to this is simple. Unless you’re in a real emergency, use the ATMs for your financial institution only!
7. If you decide to live off campus, get a roommate!
Having a roommate will cut your bills in half and make everything a lot more manageable. Plus, living with someone will improve your quality of life and make things much less lonely off campus!
8. Become an extreme couponer.
Okay… maybe not an extreme couponer, but you get the idea. Check for discounts on items you use regularly, and use them to stock up on the things that won’t go bad. Meanwhile, avoid buying perishable foods in bulk. Even if they are on sale, you may still spend more than you originally planned and wind up throwing some of it away before the expiration date.
9. Apply for scholarships.
Scholarships are a great way to save money on your education. Check out your school’s financial aid website, listen for announcements around campus and look for scholarships out on the web as well. It doesn’t hurt to apply, and many these scholarships don’t get enough applicants! Hint: If a scholarship deadline is extended, it often means that fewer people have applied for it, which increases your chances of receiving it.
10. Pay your bills on time, every time.
Keep a schedule of when your payments are due to ensure that you pay them on time. This will help you build your credit score, which will in turn help you later on as you apply for major loans and even for jobs. If you have a credit card, try to pay the full balance every month to avoid damaging your credit and paying interest on what you owe.
11. Create a budget to stay on track.
Create a monthly budget that includes your income and expenses, including gas, car payment, rent, utilities and other payments you must make throughout the month. If you’re spending more than you’re saving, adjust accordingly. Go online to find some helpful tools for creating your budget!
12. Save on gas money.
Carpool to campus, ride your bike or use the school’s shuttle service. If you already live on campus, walk to class! Gas money does add up, and by taking advantage of alternative modes of transportation, you can transfer some of that money into savings.
13. Transfer 10% of your earnings into a savings account.
The more you save now, the more interest you will earn in the future! If you use direct deposit, you can automatically transfer 10% (or another amount, depending on what you can afford) into a savings account. When paying bills, use the checking account, and try not to dip into your savings.
14. Be smart about your credit card.
If you do get a credit card as a student, look for a card with no annual fees and low interest. Read the fine print! Pay the card on time every time to avoid late payments, interest or other fees. Your card does play a key role in your credit score, so make sure you aren’t using it to pay for things you can’t afford. If you have trouble applying discipline to your spending habits, use a debit card instead. That way, you can’t spend money you don’t have.
15. Get a job on campus.
Departments on campus often hire student workers and can be flexible with hours based on your class schedule. This helps you save money on gas and helps you build connections with people at your university. During my senior year, I worked in the Career Services center at my school. Not only did they allow me to work within a schedule that fit my needs, but I also met a lot of staff, students and faculty members that I still correspond with to this day.