Many students head to college without knowing the basics of money management. Here are some tips for college financial literacy that every student should get up-to-speed on.
Understand Where Your Money is Going
Do you know where your money is coming from or what you’re spending it on? If you don’t, you need to start a budget to keep your finances in order. Creating and maintaining a budget on paper or with the assistance of websites or apps, like Mint.com, is an excellent way to keep track of your money. From textbooks and supplies to bars, food, travel, and concerts, there are a variety of school-related expenses to consider. Think about the financial repercussions. If you want to make the most out of college—without being strapped for cash—make sure you take the time to learn how to budget well.
Start a Savings Account
Saving money might not seem like a priority when you’re at college, but making the choice to put away money will not only give you a head start financially, it will help you develop skills you’ll use throughout your life. When you save, it’s a good idea to have a goal, like saving for a car or even something smaller, like a laptop. Put aside a set amount each month. How much depends on your budget. You might not be able to save much at first, but if you take on a part-time job at your university, or find some other means of income, consider increasing your savings. Big life events like buying a house, getting married, or retirement may seem far away, but those moments will come more quickly than you think.
There will be no shortage of advertisements and promotional materials for credit at college. It’s a good idea to establish a credit history while in college, but bet sure to use your card wisely as it can become dangerous if abused. The easiest way to do this is by getting a credit card. But before you sign any contract, do your research. Not all credit cards are the same, and you will need to really look before your leap and choose one. Try applying for a card that has no yearly payment, a reasonable interest rate and perks like travel miles or cash back rewards. To avoid overspending, try setting up a recurring payment for something that doesn’t cost a lot, but you will use—select items you use and you can afford so you can pay off without issue. Credit will help tremendously when it comes to getting an apartment lease, auto lean, or even a job as many employers look at credit scores when you apply for jobs.
Know Your Financial Aid Options and How They Work
It’s important for students to understand the difference between scholarships (which are typically based on GPA), grants and loans. Do your research. There are far more scholarships and grants out there than you can imagine. If you need to borrow, research your options. From federal loans, state tuition assistance programs, and private loans, there are many options available. Make sure you understand the terms of payment and don’t over borrow. Moderation is key. Many students need financial aid to help pay for their education, but most don’t understand how financial aid works, or how the cost will impact them down the road. Having a clear picture of what financing is available will help you the value of your education and help you to set priorities
Protect Your Personal Information
On a college campus, your personal information is at risk. It can easily be stolen in the library, in the dorm, and even in the dining hall. It’s important that you don’t share personal information, like your Social Security number or login passwords. Use strong passwords for all your logins on your computer, tablet, and smartphone, and change them often. When you use public WiFi, always login to a secured network, or invest in a VPN, to keep thieves from seeing your information. When you use a school computer always log out completely when you’re done. Pay attention to your bank and credit card accounts regularly. Don’t leave papers or documents with important information lying around. Never let your roommate or a friend borrow your credit card. Download a financial app like Mint.com to check all your accounts in one spot. If you see any suspicious activity, report it right away.
Look for Deals on Textbooks
Never buy new books at your campus bookstore because they are much too pricey. Instead, check in with your school bookstore to see if they offer a textbook rental program. Websites offer textbooks to rent. If you are looking to buy, keep an eye out for sellers on campus bulletins, eBay and Amazon who are looking to unload books for discounted prices. Once your school year ends, make sure to sell your used textbooks to school bookstores, retailers, and online sites to get some of that cash back.
Look for Student Discounts
There’s no shortage of student discounts to take advantage of once you’re at school. Many local venues, vendors, restaurants, and other services near your campus will be advertising savings for students to drum up business. Make sure you look out for as many discounts as you can. If you don’t see any deals listed, always ask a retailer about student discounts. From 1/2 off sandwiches to discounted computers, you can find a lot of great deals with some observation, inquiry and a flash of your campus ID.