College is one of the most exciting times in a person’s life. Yet at the same time it can be one of the toughest, especially when it comes to your finances. All those stories you’ve heard about college students eating instant noodles for weeks and never going out with friends can be a reality. It’s what happens when you don’t have any money.
Finances are a huge challenge in college. As I’m sure you know, the cost of a college education keeps going up and up. So if you are about to enter college or know someone who is, here are some basic tips that will help you improve your finances.
Budget, Budget, Budget
For most students, a budget isn’t exactly a cool thing to have written in the back of your notebook. However, it’s one of the most effective ways to manage money while at college. You don’t need to know complex accounting and finance terms to construct a sensible budget plan. At the minimum, write down monthly income sources and expenses you expect for the entire month and do your best to stick within those spending limits.
Budgeting was what turned my financial life around. I learned how to make a budget and how to prioritize what’s most important in a budget. With enough discipline you can have more than enough money left over each month. If you need budgeting forms to help with this click here.
Distinguish Wants from Needs
Perhaps the most challenging part of improving your finances as a college student is establishing a clear line between wants and needs. All too often, your weekly or monthly budget is spent predominantly on things you don’t really need. For example, gas money is a necessity, but many of the trips you take in your car are unnecessary. Spending money on gas to come home for Christmas is one thing. Spending money on gas to drive 1 mile across campus 6 times a day instead of walking is a different story.
Be Responsible with Credit Cards
When surveyed, 70 percent of college students used at least one line of credit, based on a 2012 report by the International Journal of Business and Social Science. There is nothing wrong with having a credit card in college for emergencies, or as some would argue, to build your credit score. However, maintaining discipline is crucial to avoiding long-term debt.
If you think raising your credit limit will help, don’t look at the additional funds as free money. Instead, take what the credit card company offers and manage it well. See to it that your credit utilization does not exceed a certain percentage, say 30 or 40 percent of your upper limit. And pay it off immediately each month so as not to incur any late fees.
Capitalize on Technology
Gone are the days when your only option to manage finances was Microsoft Excel. Technology is furthering your ability to manage money better. By taking the unnecessary bulk of common processes, such as paying tuition or buying books, more savings are incurred over time.
In addition, there are many apps that have been developed to help you save money. Check out some of the most common ones here and see which might work best for your situation.
Hunt Student Discounts
Being resourceful is a skill you’ll learn and master as a college student, especially if you are trying to improve your financial status. With just a small amount of effort put into research, you can find a variety of discount items and services including tickets to local concerts and meals at restaurants. Ideally, you’d want to start your search around the campus as this is where most vendors set up shop to attract regular customers.
Get a Part-Time Job
This is great way to fill in those extra hours when you are not in class or studying. Getting a part-time job as a barista at your local cafe or a dishwasher at a nearby restaurant helps you save money quicker. It also may teach you new skills that can be applied into the real world.
Believe it or not, there are many part-time jobs that are ideal for college students. You can make something fit your daily routine as most employers can be flexible with your class schedule. Making some money while in college will go a long way to reducing the amount of debt you might owe.
College is a great time of life. By following these practical tips you can make sure it doesn’t eat your finances alive.
Questions for Discussion: What money saving advice do you have for college students? Did you have a part or full-time job in college? Did you use a credit card in college? How much debt did you rack up from your credit card?