Now that you’re in college, it’s likely that you are in charge of your own financial affairs more so than when you lived at home and functioned mostly as part of your parents’ economic universe. Certainly, you have more freedom to decide where and how to spend money, especially if Mom and Dad are many miles away.
But along with that freedom comes the responsibility to spend money wisely. That’s what it’s like when you’re on your own — you get to decide. And you also get to experience the consequences of your choices, both good and bad.
1. Create a Budget
Though they sometimes have a negative association with restriction, budgets are your friend, and they’re fairly simple to make. First, identify your income for the year, including paychecks if you have a job, grants, loans, and family contributions. This will give you an idea of how much you have to spend each month, after which you can make a plan to fit your spending needs on groceries, transportation, etc. Whatever is left over can be set aside for future expenses like trips or simple pleasures: a latte every now and then is okay.
2. Keep Credit Card Debt Low
It's important to not make the mistake of treating credit cards as an infinite source of cash. High credit balances and missed payments can prolong the time it takes for students to get on their feet after graduation, as poor credit can jeopardize job searches, apartment rentals, and home purchases.
Establishing a solid record of credit card payments can help students build credit, which will, in turn, make future loans and purchases for a car or apartment a lot easier to secure.
If you’re about to sign up for a credit card for the first time, remember:
- Start first with a debit card. Keep an actual credit card handy in case of emergencies.
- Take the time for research. Look at spending limits, interest rates, and terms to make the best choices for yourself. You may want to check out credit cards that are designed specifically for college students. However, be aware of the cons like high fees for late payments.
- Build credit responsibly. Only spending what you can afford to pay back and paying your card off in full each month will keep fees away and build your credit score.
3. Understand Your Credit Score
Three major companies provide free annual credit reports: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Get a credit report from all three companies at least once a year to check for errors or identity theft and to get as thorough a review as possible. There are free credit monitoring websites that give users access to view their credit reports.
Your credit score might not seem important as you embark on your college journey, but once you graduate and begin to apply for car notes, apartments, and even buying a home, having a good score is crucial.
4. Don’t Buy New
There is not a need to purchase a new textbook if you can find a used one for a much reduced price. If you have to buy new, remember that campus prices are almost always higher than online retailers. These days, you may also be able to order e-books for an e-reader or laptop and pocket the difference between the virtual and actual text.
Also, remember that if you’re moving into a dorm room, someone else is moving out. Maybe you can get a used refrigerator or coffee pot from someone on campus. Recycling helps the environment and saves money.
If you live off-campus, forget about buying the latest designer furniture from Sweden. There are secondhand stores that can furnish your student apartment just as easily. And you’d be surprised at the great stuff that you can get at a yard sale. The point is, this is the time of life to ratchet down your sophisticated tastes and go for the simple and inexpensive!
5. Be discount-obsessed
It’s important to make time for fun and relaxation, but too much expensive entertainment can drain your budget. Take advantage of free and discounted on-campus events, and use campus fitness centers instead of paying for costly gym memberships.
It’s common for companies that cater to students, from movie theaters to software programs, to offer discounts in the form of student membership programs. If you’re not sure whether a company has a student discount, it’s always worth asking. That student ID has power, go use it!