Updated: Jul 30, 2020
1. Stick to a budget
Little things can add up very quickly. You don’t necessarily need to budget for every little thing, but have a total monthly budget you’d like to stick to. If you are living off savings from a summer job, you need to know exactly how much you can afford to spend without running out of money. Say you have $5,000 to cover all expenses outside of room and board, that needs to last you 9 months. First, you should plan for at least a $1,000 emergency and leave that money untouched, so your true budget is $4,000. This means you have just about $444 to spend each month, or $111 per week. Working a part-time job? How much money do you bring in per week? Ideally, you’d be able to save 10% of this income and use the rest to cover expenses.
2. Build your credit
Even though you are warned of the evils of credit cards, they do still serve an important purpose in your financial life. Whether it makes sense or not, you need to have a credit card in order to have good credit. So get one, and sooner rather than later. As a rule of thumb, you should never use more than 30% of your total credit limit. So if you have a credit card with a $1,000 limit you should never charge more than $300 at any given time. Always makes the minimum monthly payment (or better yet, pay off your balance in full). If you won’t be able to afford it in 30 days when the bill is due, you shouldn’t buy it. Following these credit card tips will help you learn how to be responsible with credit and help to build up your credit score so that you will be eligible for better rates on things like mortgages and auto loans later in life. Most credit card companies even offer a Student card, so take advantage of those and start building credit before you graduate!
3. Take advantage of financial aid opportunities
There are ways to get money for school that don’t necessarily involve taking out more student loans. All colleges offer grants and scholarships, you just have to do the work of researching and applying for them. If you or your parents belong to any organizations you can find out if they offer scholarships as well. It may be time consuming to find some of these scholarship, but the more you receive, the less you have to borrow. If you do have student loans, make sure you are being smart about how much you take. While no one wants to think about paying loans back, the sooner you start the better. If you’re working a part-time job you should try to devote some of your income towards paying back your loans. While you’re in school your loans are in deferment so any payments that are received go directly towards the principal, which means you’ll be ahead of the game when you graduate.
4. Shop around for school supplies
While the campus bookstore may be the most convenient place to buy your supplies, it’s also probably the most expensive. Definitely don’t buy textbooks from the bookstore. You can find serious discounts by looking on places like Chegg, Half.com, Amazon, Textbooks.com, and Better World Books. Better yet, find a friend who took the same course last semester and buy their book off them (and maybe their notes too). For other school supplies (read calculators, notebooks, pens, pencils, highlighters, binders, etc) you should take advantage of sales at places like Staples, Walmart, Target and always check Amazon!
5. Start networking now
While this won’t impact your financial position today, it will set you up for success in the future! Take advantage of campus career fairs and speaker events, get involved in clubs and organizations that will allow you to make connections that can help you land internships and eventually a full-time job. You need to invest in your future now, it may mean skipping Tuesday Trivia or waking up early on a Friday morning, it may even mean spending a weekend at a conference or taking a class, but you will develop skills and create a network that will benefit you down the road.
Bridget Todd - COO & Level 2 Financial Trainer of the Financial Gym