“Leave your simple ways behind, and begin to live; learn to use good judgment.” (Proverbs 9:6, NLT)
Congratulations! You’ve just been accepted to your dream college! You’re about to start an exciting new adventure, but are your finances ready?
These tips can help you make the most of your money in college—and beyond!
1. Make a budget.
Up until now, you may not have worried much about money. But once you’re on your own, you’ll have to be careful with your funds. Write down all the income sources you’ll have at school, including your job and any grants that are being paid to you directly.
Then, write down categories of expenses. You’ll need to budget for rent and food (if you’re living off campus), books, and gas. Even if you don’t have all the amounts yet, it’s important to know what costs you’ll be responsible for covering.
2. Open a checking account and a savings account.
In order to pay your bills, you’ll need a checking (debit card) account. You should also open a savings account of your own. Having your own accounts will help you build savings and track your spending. In addition, a savings account can provide an important emergency fund for unexpected expenses.
A credit union is a great place to start a banking relationship. Many credit unions offer special packages for students with lower minimum balances and online access to your account. Also, credit union membership gives you access to thousands of free ATMs nationwide.
3. Bank from your phone.
Keeping a paper budget form updated isn’t your only money tracking option. Mobile and tablet apps can make your nearest branch as close as your pocket. And many financial institutions offer budgeting apps to help keep you on track.
4. Set some financial goals.
If your family isn’t covering your expenses, you’ll need some solid goals to help get you through college. If you haven’t already, start putting aside some money in that new savings account so it can earn interest. Financial calculators can help you figure out what you’ll need to have saved up for big purchases.
You can help build good credit during your college years by making it a point to pay your utilities and rent (if you live off campus) on time. Establishing a history as a good and trustworthy renter will help you to rent other apartments in the future, and may help you avoid costly security deposits.
5. Examine your spending habits.
Watch your spending once you’re in school. That means cutting down on nonessential purchases like meals out, tickets to new movies, and coffee runs.
Track your spending for a week to see where your money goes. Write down every dollar you spend and where it went. The results may surprise you! Think about where you can cut corners so you can focus more on your studies—and less on your bills.
6. Discover student discounts.
Many businesses offer discounts to students. Ask about student discounts everywhere you shop. Don’t be embarrassed! Smart business owners know that students are often short on cash, and they’re betting that lower prices now will keep you coming back in the future.
Student discounts can be especially helpful in shopping for large purchases like a laptop for school.
7. Know your financial aid options.
Chances are you’re receiving some kind of financial aid from your school. And hopefully you’ve explored all the “free money” available from scholarships and grants. To fill in the “funding gap” left after your grants and scholarships are applied, you may need to take out a loan.
Not all loans are created equal, and costs can vary. Study your financial aid package carefully to find out what types of loans you have, and what their payment terms are. A student loan is a long-term relationship, and it’s important to check out all your options before choosing a lender.
If you have a banking relationship with a credit union (see number 2 above), you may be eligible for private student loans at a lower rate and with lower fees. A little research now could save you hundreds of dollars over your college career.
Your college years are an exciting time that you’ll always remember. With a few simple precautions and a willingness to be flexible, you can make sure your memories, not your debt, will last forever.
This article should not be considered legal, tax, or financial advice. You may wish to consult a tax or financial advisor about your individual financial situation. Christian Community Credit Union is an Equal Opportunity Lender.