By Robert Carr. Robert writes full-time for small business, finance and car repair how-to sites.
Some believe the most valuable life lessons are learned in grade school, like being polite, the importance of sharing, and always looking both ways before crossing the street. Others believe critical life knowledge comes from years spent in middle school and high school—useful skills like navigating diverse social landscapes and putting a winning wardrobe together.
College, though, is really when experience comes fast and furious: when you are on your own for the first time, interacting with new classmates and faculty, and completely in control of things such as when, where, and what you eat. Unfortunately, this level of independence can be a challenge for modern college students who enjoy having their own place but may not be ready for adult commitments, including paying the electric bill or creating a grocery budget.
In addition to be being prepared for the rigors of academic life, you’ll need solid financial habits while in college. Master these, and you’ll be the big man or woman on campus. If not, you’ll have a tough time and maybe, gulp, have to head back to the “real” world where your parents set the rules, budget and dinner menu.
Here are five strategies for students to manage money while in college:
- Paperwork is vital, whether you keep actual receipts or use software. This tells you not just how much you’re spending but what you’re spending it on. Bank of America’s Money Management site suggests keeping detailed track of everything for a couple of weeks, then comparing this to income from any jobs, parents, loans or other sources. The difference will be your general budget.
- Be disciplined. Debt.org, a site dedicated to helping people of all ages reduce costs, reports that it’s not hard to create a budget on paper, but a bigger challenge is having the self-discipline to keep to it. This may mean forgoing regular nights out with friends, or watching TV and making a meal on a Friday night instead of going to dinner and a movie. Your financial institution may even have online or printable templates to help illustrate your planning in action.
- Be flexible. Though you will have fixed costs like rent and tuition, you’ll have other varying expenses, like your utility bill. Beyond this, you’ll have other unexpected costs that need to be absorbed into your budget, such as repairs to your computer or car. Wells Fargo’s online student budget section points out that you should be ready for everything from a rise in the rent to approval for extra financial aid.
- Look for ways to save. There are plenty of creative ways to reduce day-to-day costs. See if merchants in town offer a college discount. Consider a roommate or roommates to split costs. Check into ways to combine services, such as bundle.tv that offers Internet, TV and phone service for one monthly price—an attractive option for frugal students who still want all three services.
- Learn effective credit habits. Creditcards.com suggests paying bills on time, using a credit card for emergencies and then paying it off quickly. Such behaviors will help you build good credit and minimize debt later in life.
Now that you’ve got your budget under control, learn how to maximize your GPA with The Secrets of Top Students. Order your copy today!