College is such an exciting time, no matter what age you enter the halls of scholarship. You’re learning, expanding your potential, making friends, and exposing yourself to new opportunities every way you turn.
It’s also a time when you’re cramming for exams, spending more money than you ever thought possible, and your available hours to work and earn money are at an all-time low.
The single best money tip for college students isn’t exciting. It isn’t earth-shattering. In fact, it’s pretty boring. But it’s also incredibly important:
Best Money Tip for College Students? Budget!
I cannot stress enough the importance of sitting down with a pen and paper (or computer and mouse) and getting all of your numbers out in black and white. I always encourage people to budget liberally and spend conservatively. It’s better to end up with more money than you thought you’d have than less.
As a college student, you’ll want to do some long-term budgeting along with short-term.
Long-Term Budgeting in College
The financial decisions you make in college can have a major impact on the rest of your life. Make sure you pay attention to long-term financial decisions such as:
- How much is my tuition going to cost me each semester? How am I going to pay for it? Loans? Scholarships? Working a job?
- How much can I realistically expect to make when I graduate to pay back any loans? How long will it take me?
- How much can I expect my books to cost each semester?
- How much will membership dues for any clubs/fraternities I’m in cost? How often are they due?
- How much will my room and board cost? Is getting an apartment more or less cost effective?
- How will I handle transportation? How much will it cost me each month to either keep up a car or pay to use public transport?
- How much do I need to be setting aside to build a healthy emergency fund for if WHEN something unexpected comes up?
Short-Term Budgeting for College Students
Once you’ve got the long-term budgeting issues taken care of, break them down into short-term solutions. These are the little decisions you’ll have to make at least once year–some of them should get attention no less frequently than once per month:
- How much is my rent/room and board this month?
- How much are my books this semester?
- How much do I need to spend on food?
- Where is my next check coming from?
- How much do I have allotted towards entertainment? If you’re not eating this month, your entertainment budget is probably too high. If you’re not enjoying a single moment as a student, it’s probably too low.
- What other day-to-day bills do I have to pay and when are they due? Don’t miss due dates; late fees are a waste of your hard earned money.
Tips to Fix Your College Budget
Writing these numbers down can be scary. If you’re like most students, you’re probably seeing more red than green. But having them written out helps you see the reality of your situation. Once you’ve started facing reality, you can focus on ways to handle and improve your situation.
- reselling your books
- selling crap you don’t need on eBay
- reevaluating your major
- applying for FAFSA
- seeing if you’re eligible for free textbooks
- applying for scholarships
- considering moving to a city that will repay your student loans after graduation
- taking advantage of all the things to do for free via your student life office
- selling your body to the medical world
Money in college isn’t easy. Budgeting isn’t usually exciting. But it is the best way to make sure the financial decisions you’re making now are setting you up for success rather than failure later in in life.