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 household stuff you don’t need
- 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.
I have a younger friend who is paying her way through college by working two jobs. It can be done!
It absolutely can! It’s extremely difficult, but it can be done. I did it my first year at college to make ends meet.
If only you were blogging when I was in college. GREAT ideas and strategies for a time in life that requires a little financial creativity. Thank you!
No problem! Thanks for visiting!
Great tips. Unfortunately I learned of my love of budgeting after college. But, having a budget while in college is a great idea. I also worked a part time job on campus which was a great help.
That’s a great tip. A lot of times colleges will employ you in exchange for reduced tuition. It’s not cash, but heck, it might as well be.
I have two 17 year olds that’ll be reading your post tonight. Hopefully you can hear the groan from Pittsburgh….
Ha! Loud and clear. It’s not a fun subject to read up on, but I’m so glad I learned those skills in high school. It really served me well.
I really hope this will strike a chord with some young’uns as they tentatively push their way into the working world. Ahh, the years of pain I merrily could have skipped past if only I had been taught more effective financial skills during my college years. Sigh.
I wish I had read something like this before going to college!
For students, the only way to stay financially stable is to create a budget that will be good for both the short and long-term. Save while you are young.
Budgeting is definitely I didn’t even think of in university. Somehow it all worked out and I paid for it all, but I wish I knew where all my money went!
That’s the biggest kicker isn’t it? If I go through a bad budget period, I always mourn the goals I could have achieved if I had kept better track.
They need to teach this in high-school.
You already know what I’m going to say and that is to budget. Although I never used a budget really when I was in University the first time I was smart enough to save my money and work as hard as I could. I managed to not only graduate debt free but I bought my first home around 20 years old. Life can be as hard as we make it or simplified depending on our decisions and of course circumstances! Great Post and Happy Budgeting! Mr.CBB
Thanks, Mr. CBB! Was your college experience in the UK? How did that compare to what you see here in North America? (In any way, but specifically fiscally?)
great tips and have a budget is helpful not only during college…Honestly I think that budget, savings and finance would be subjects from elementary school:P
I worked all the way through college but never actually took budgeting serious. I mean, after setting aside the money to pay the tuition, I pretty much spent the rest in ca very careless manner! Luckily, everything turned out great, graduating without student debt is priceless!
Give yourself more credit: graduating without debt is huge!!
I highly recommend a job as a tutor or teaching assistant while in school. I did both at different times. Especially if you are tutoring in the classes you take (higher level courses often have a lack of tutors so if you are good at it, you can tutor the classes you are in) – you basically get paid to study! Even if you are tutoring or TAing for lower level courses in your major, it is amazing how continually reviewing the basics will help you in the higher level courses. You also learn a lot of good “soft” skills, like public speaking and creative thinking, that look great on a resume coming out of school.
I did a bit of tutoring and you’re right–incredibly lucrative per hour! Had a guest post a while back from a former TA. Such a smart way to go about earning extra money while beefing up that resume!