It’s a no-brainer that college students go to school to get an education. But before they even step into a classroom, there are real-world lessons to be learned as far as managing money.
Here’s a quick checklist for those of you looking to stretch your dollars while on or off campus:
- Create a budget – and stick to it! Know what your income is (money from student grants and loans, savings, parental allowances, etc.) and then figure out what you’re expenses are going to be outside of tuition, such as room and board/rent and food, school supplies, personal care items, and money for laundry needs. It doesn’t matter if it’s a weekly or monthly budget, just so you have one to provide guidance.
- If you have a credit card, pay off the entire balance each month. Don’t let the charges accumulate and get out of hand. Remember that if you carry a balance from month to month, you’ll usually need to pay interest. A good approach is to have a low maximum threshold, say in the area of $500, so you don’t dig yourself a debt ditch that’s hard to climb out of. The last thing you want is to establish a bad credit record right off the bat.
- If you can help it, never buy new text books! There are plenty of resources that can save you money, from used book stores to downloading books on an electronic tablet. Why buy a new book that costs hundreds of dollars if you can get a used one instead for $20? (Just make sure that you have the correct edition.)
- Never shop for groceries while you’re hungry. Why? You’re more likely to buy stuff that you don’t really need. It’s called impulse buying. If you’re stomach’s growling, you might have the urge to purchase junk food like a big box of Twinkies and three bags of barbecue chips, but they aren’t going to do much good when preparing a meal.
- Speaking of impulse buying, it’s easy to get sucked into purchasing a new college sweatshirt or the latest, greatest headphones that your roommate has. But do you really need it? If the answer is no, don’t buy it.
- When buying items, pick out the less expensive generic versions if they’re available.
- Pay bills on time to avoid late fees. This includes utility bills such as cable, electric and heat. Late payments can reflect poorly on your credit record.
- Leave the car at home. Many college campuses have dependable public transportation services. Or take a bike to get around. And don’t forget to invest in a good pair of walking shoes. Walking is still a great, inexpensive way to get from Point A to Point B.
- If you’re buying a college meal plan, figure out in advance just how much you’ll really be eating every day. For instance, if you’re not a breakfast person, go with just the lunch/dinner plan.
- Don’t get lured into expensive cable or satellite TV packages. Remember, you’re at school to learn, not go on a viewing binge of every episode of your favorite TV show.
- Go to your classes. You paid for them, so get the most out of them.
- Take advantage of student discounts. You’ll find them all over the place – the campus bookstore, restaurants, cafes, movie theaters.
- Don’t take out a loan for anything but educational expenses.
- Keep track of your savings and checking account balances. But don’t do it on a public computer or on public Wi-Fi. That just makes you easy prey for online thieves.