The day has finally come! You’ve graduated from high school, you’ve had a summer off and now you’re heading to college! There is a lot of change ahead of you – Classes, studying, and the all important social life! However, all these things cost money. There are several things that you can do to save money as a college student. Here’s what you need to know!
3 Things You Can Do to Save Money in College
1. Don’t use a credit card.
It may seem like a convenience at the time and the salesperson will have some perks to give you. However, think about it this way: that free t-shirt, or that mug, or whatever gimmick they give you may cost you thousands of dollars! Interest is a very real risk you take when you use a credit card. No matter how well-intentioned you are at paying it off every month, that once or twice making the minimum or even missing your payment will add up.
Use a cash back debit card instead. You will be limited to what’s in your account and if you follow the guidelines, you’ll earn rewards. I’d say that’s better than a t-shirt that costs you a thousand dollars.
2. Get on a budget.
What is a budget? A budget is you telling your money where to go, rather than it controlling you. Sit down, figure out what your monthly income is, set up categories for where your money goes (Food, Tuition, Rent, etc.), and then make sure every penny is spent on paper before the month begins. This is a plan for your monthly flow of cash – think of it as a group of buckets with labels on it. Once you use up the category, you don’t spend any more on that category until the next month.
For example: I have 40 bucks set aside for entertainment. I go to the movies, buy popcorn, and soda twice in the first two weeks of the month. Assuming each visit is $20, then when my friends ask me to go to the movies on the 30th, I say no because I have no money in that category, even though my tuition bucket has money in it.
You must stick to a budget to make it work! To learn more about sticking to a budget, sign up for John’s free lesson through StreetSense.
3. Track your spending.
Mint.com is a wonderful tool that allows you to track your purchases online. The way it works is that you connect your account to your banks. If you use your debit card for everything, every purchase will then show up on your account. It has assigned categories for your purchases, but you can edit them to match your budget. There is a budget tool that you can use, as well as reports that generate charts so that you can see where your money is going.
Now if you want to, you can also download Quicken or another such money tracking program. That will require a bit more work, but if you enter receipts every week or two, then you will be in more control of your spending.
How to Control Your Spending Habits
This is one of your best ways of saving money in college! I remember not really caring about where my money went and what I spent it on. I look back now and think that I spent a lot on frivolous things and things that didn’t matter much.
- Ask yourself if this item has value beyond the moment – Movies, fiction books, video games, and the various toys we entertain ourselves with come under this category. Some spending here is okay, but don’t spend a lot.
- Think about what you spend on food. Eating out frequently is fun, not to mention a great social activity. However, you can usually eat cheaper by buying groceries, making a menu plan, and cooking for yourself (and if you live in the dorm, the meal plan isn’t too expensive).
- Buy used textbooks. Most upperclassmen will let their textbooks go at a good rate. Plus, Amazon.com and Half.com have great prices on used textbooks. Also, check out the local used bookstore. The trick with this is pre-registering and getting your booklist from your professor before the semester starts.
- Don’t drive much. If you are in a large city, most bus lines give bus passes at a reduced rate or even free to students. There’s also the option of riding a bike or even walking. With gas prices, insurance, and parking, having the status symbol of a car is expensive (not to mention no payments on a car – which you shouldn’t have anyway).
- Don’t go to a private college. Depending on your goals, this is a very good way of saving money. Community colleges offer great prerequisite classes (Math, English, Computer, etc.) and state colleges are usually cheaper than private. Some degrees (like mine) require a private college education, but if you take classes that can transfer in, you can reduce the cost greatly!
- Use wisdom on your purchases. You can follow the trends, but shop at thrift stores and discount stores. You’d be surprised at the brand names that make it in there. When you shop for groceries, check ingredients on the no-name brands versus the name brands, watch flyers, and buy your often used items in bulk.
- Work while you’re in college. Not only will this allow you to pay up front for college and other things, but it will make you focus. I was able to be part of a work study for three of my years of college and because I had to focus, my grades were good. The last year I didn’t work and my grades sunk. It makes a huge difference in how you approach your college career.
College is a lot of work and a lot of fun! If you take the time to plan out how you’re going to pay for classes, food, and the rest of the way you live, you can graduate without owing a ton of money and have a head start on the rest of your life.
How about you? How do you save money in college? Leave a comment below!