With the cost of college rising, students need to keep on top of their finances if they are going to graduate without too much debt.
While most first-year students feel ready to take on the academic and social aspects of college life, financial responsibility is often the one thing they feel unprepared for.
Though it may seem a tall order to jump straight into bank accounts and budgeting if you haven’t had to manage much more than your allowance before, it only takes a little common sense to stay on top of your money throughout your time in college. Get into the right mindset when you start thinking about the five key tips below:
- Choose Carefully
A college education is one of the biggest investments you’ll probably ever make, so it is important that you find the right school for you, and that includes finding one that fits your financial criteria. Some students set their heart on one particular school, but it’s important to also make sure you select a school that you can afford for the entire time you’ll need to attend.
Don’t remove schools from your list based on the sticker price alone – many schools offer generous financial aid and scholarships – but you won’t know what you qualify for if you don’t apply. The choice you make can make a big difference to your pocket long-term, so make sure your current and future finances are on your radar when you’re deciding which college to attend.
So many students neglect this step when they get to campus, so don’t fall into the trap of thinking your budget will sort itself out – it won’t! When everyone around you is spending without a second thought, it can be tempting to do the same.
While you are new on campus, it pays to keep an eye on your finances with a weekly or monthly budget. This will help you keep track of your income and outgoing costs and help you balance your books from week to week. There are lots of apps that can help you organize your budget easily, so try one of those to get started.
Or you can even go low-tech and simply keep and check your receipts! Just remember that it is important to be realistic and to leave a little leeway for any unexpected bills or overspending that may occur. This will help you avoid scrounging for the last week of the month.
- Free Money
What! Where? If there is free money coming your way, you want to make sure you get it, right? So many first year students miss out on money that they should be snapping up just because they don’t think ahead and fail to get organized in time for the relevant deadlines. Make sure you’re not one of them!
Accessing free money is all about being deadline savvy. The big deadlines for financial aid and any scholarships or grants should always be on your calendar, and a bit of advance preparation will help you to make sure that you have everything you need to submit on time.
However, free money is also accessible all around you. There are lots of additional little things you can do to make your dollar stretch further. Look for everyday ways to save, like sharing your weekly shopping trip with a roommate, buying second-hand textbooks and always asking if there is a student discount available. Most bigger stores and many of the local businesses around your campus will have a student discount, so don’t pay full price if you don’t have to.
- Credit Cards
Yes, they sound scary, and you’ve probably heard one or two horror stories, but unless you are very frugal, you are likely to come out of college with at least a little credit card debt. That’s no reason to panic though. If managed correctly, credit cards can be a great tool to get you through. Credit cards are an easy way to help you meet financial commitments in an emergency, and as long as you make your payments on time and pay off more than just the interest, you are unlikely to experience any problems.
Before you commit, however, you should do some research and find a good interest rate. Look out for hidden costs on late fees, or deadlines on rate deals, and you’ll have a useful tool rather than a difficult debt.
It sounds unrealistic to think about saving at a time when you might not have much extra cash, but we aren’t talking about retirement here. Keep an emergency fund; even if it is just $10 dollars a month you put in a separate bank account, you are almost guaranteed to need it at some point.
Being a student means you’ll get asked for deposits or one-off payments more often than you’d expect, and a small backup of savings helps you get over those moments where a deposit may be needed and you don’t have the money on hand. The best part is, if you don’t use it, you can always spend it on a trip with friends when summer rolls around!