Successful college students have to balance a lot—school work, grades, part-time or full-time jobs, social life, and personal finances. Finances. Just the mention of the word can make us feel nervous or overwhelmed. However, if you truly want to be successful, you should be aware and in control of your financial situation.
The most important, most basic financial principal you should follow is to never (ever!) spend more money than you have. This means that credit card you may have burning a hole in your wallet is not a magical financial fund. If you spend more on a credit card than you can pay off in full, you are now officially in debt. Overspending can quickly and easily spiral out of control, so make sure you stop racking up debt right now if you are already, and if you are not, be extra careful to never start down that debt-tunnel.
Consider the following simple, practical ideas to stay in control of your money during college:
Write down everything you spend.
Keep track of your expenses, whether you use a mobile app (like Mint.com) or go old-school with a notebook and a pen, make sure you track every single expense. That $2.86 grande coffee should be written down just like the $35.46 you spend on gas and the $8.23 you drop at Panera. No expense is too small to be noted. When you track your spending, it gives you a very clear picture of where your money is going. This will help show you where you need to cut back, or how you can save in different areas.
Unless you have an outside source paying for your books—a grant or scholarship, not a loan—you should be renting your textbooks. Websites like Chegg.com rent books for a fraction of the cost to buy them. Your school’s bookstore may also have a rental option—ask!
College students are busy! But you should never be too busy to make your lunch and/or dinner, depending on your schedule. Even at “value prices,” a lunch or dinner out will almost always cost more than a made-at-home option. You don’t have to stick with the PB&J of childhood—you can pack a salad, wrap, or even leftovers from last night’s dinner! Make the time to buy groceries and prep simple meals and snacks. Your wallet will thank you! Bonus: a homemade turkey wrap is generally healthier than a burger or vending machine treat.
Put a small amount of each paycheck into a savings account. Even if you can only manage $10 or $20, put something into your savings every single time you get paid. You should only access the money in this account in case of an actual emergency: unexpected flat tire or car problems, medical procedure or doctor’s visit, etc. Really craving Chipotle or an unbelievably cute pair of shoes do not constitute an emergency—so don’t take your money out for those type of expenses! Having an emergency fund of $200+ will help you feel calm and in control—you can handle a lot of emergencies without having to go in debt with a credit card or with a personal loan.
Don’t be scared of your bank account! Make sure you always know how much money you have and what your expected expenses are for the weeks ahead. You don’t have to be a financial planner to manage your money well. Follow these simple tips and you will be ahead of a lot of students! Don’t be scared to ask questions. Economics or Finance professors at your school can even give you (free!) advice if you make time to ask.
Bottom line: You control where your money goes. Be smart, track your spending, and save where you can. You’ll be on your way to financial security in no time!