Congratulations and welcome to your first year in college! You passed all your high school classes, took the college admissions tests, figured out financial aid, and now you’re stoked about finding your way around campus. You should be justifiably proud of your achievements, and hopefully you have a solid foundation for success in this new adventure.
One of the things that might be different for you this year is that you are more financially independent than you ever were before. Previously you could always turn to your parents if you ran a little short of cash. Now it might get a little harder as their budget tightens with you in school. Here are a few budgeting tips that will help you get over the initial bump so you can start making smart financial decisions:
• Set a budget and stick to it: If your parents didn’t give you a budget, make one of your own. Estimate how much money you have and how much you can earn, then look at your expenses. If you don’t have enough left, think about how you can increase income or decrease expenses.
• Beware of easy credit cards: At this time of year many credit card companies show up on campus and offer great incentives to get you to sign up for one of their credit cards. Be very careful with these. Some look for a co-signer, while others have surprisingly high interest rates. You can end up paying an awful lot of money for a little bit of convenience.
• Look for textbook alternatives: Textbooks usually take a big chunk out of every college student’s budget. Talk to some of the upper classmen about the courses you are taking and try to find out which textbooks on the list the professor really uses. Ask if they have a used textbook you can buy, or search online for used or digital versions. Perhaps you and a classmate can share a book if you take the same class at different times.
• Be miserly with your student loan funds: You and your parents might have decided to maximize your student loan borrowing in order to have a little additional cash. Be very careful of how you use this money as interest may be building up for the next four years. Many students are surprised to find out how high their monthly student loan payments are when they graduate.
• Find ways to make money: If you don’t participate in the federal work-study program, try to find other part-time jobs on or off campus. If you are good in a subject, get paid to tutor other students. If you are artistic, try to sell some of your work online. Keep looking for scholarships that can help pay some of your costs.
Decisions and lessons you learn now about managing money should be able to last you a lifetime. Learn them well and you’ll be well on your way to a lifetime of stress-free finances.