College can be an enjoyable time for many students, but it can also be accompanied by financial stress. In fact, one survey found that 36% of college students (and 46% of community college students) struggle to pay their rent and utilities while in college. A similar number might not have enough money to eat on a given day. While not everybody’s situation is that extreme, keeping track of your finances should be a priority early on.
Don’t worry; it is entirely possible to have a great college experience without breaking the bank. You might even be able to build up some savings to help you repay your student loans after college. It’s all about having a plan and sticking to it.
Here are 15 tips that could help ease the financial burden associated with higher education.
1) Rent, Don’t Buy
The average college student spends more than $1,200 every school year on textbooks alone. A single book may be as expensive as $300. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Services like Amazon and Chegg offer textbook rental services, which can save you as much as 90% of the cost of books. At the end of each semester, you simply ship your books back with a prepaid shipping label.
2) Don’t Go For Those Credit Cards
When money isn’t freely flowing, credit cards are tempting. Credit makes it easy to purchase that restaurant meal or a new outfit, even if you can’t afford it. But, that’s exactly the problem. One in five students leaves college with $5,000 or more in credit card debt. Instead, opt for a debit card, so that you’ll only be able to spend what you actually have in your checking account. You won’t overreach, and you won’t have to pay later on.
3) Create Your Meal Plan
Many college campuses are within close proximity to restaurants and cafes. It may be tempting to rely on ready-made food to get you through your loaded schedule, but these costs can add up very quickly. Meal plans also may seem convenient due to the sheer volume of meals and snacks they include. However, even meal plans can be exorbitantly priced when you do the math. Each of these options probably costs more than your budget can handle.
Instead, create your own meal plan. Buy groceries for specific, pre-planned meals. Eat breakfast in your room instead of at the cafeteria. There are plenty of foods that don’t require much preparation, and it’s amazing what even microwave recipes can accomplish.
Additionally, a big plus is that you have more control over the food you are preparing yourself. Restaurant and cafeteria food may not always be the healthiest, and preparing your own can allow you to make healthier choices.
4) Take Advantage of Public Transportation
Yes, having a car on campus is convenient. Unfortunately, it’s also expensive. A parking pass may cost hundreds of dollars per semester, and parking tickets can only add to that. Especially if you don’t travel far from campus too often, you probably won’t need your car. If you want to go somewhere, carpool with your friends or use a ridesharing service. Many colleges also offer free or discounted public transit, like shuttle buses, to all their students. Learn what options your college provides and what modes of transport are the most affordable in your area.
5) Save Money on Apps and Technology
Think twice before you buy your next laptop. You may be able to get a better deal than you anticipated. Apple and Dell, for instance, offer discounted prices for college students. The same is true for the apps you need to get through your classes. Talk to your campus IT department about discounted or free versions of Microsoft Windows, Office 365, or Adobe Creative Suite. You may need it, but that doesn’t mean you have to front the full cost.
6) Know Your College’s Tuition Policy
Registering for classes may look very different, depending on if your university offers full-semester or per-credit pricing. Most students don’t know the difference. At some schools, registering for 18 credits (6 classes) in one semester costs the same as 12 credits (4 classes) for flat-rate pricing, but 33% more at colleges with per-credit pricing. Your financial aid office can help you make those calculations before you register. It’s also worth checking how many credits you need per semester to graduate and seeing if you could graduate a bit early. One semester or one year could make a world of difference in your financial situation.
7) Focus on Your Classes
Yes, college can be fun. You can meet friends, explore new hobbies, and even travel abroad. But don’t lose track of the fact that you’re there for the degree. Most importantly, you should make sure that you graduate on time. A 2017 study by the National Center for Education Statistics actually showed that students who graduated in four years saved an average of $20,000 in future loan debt compared to those who took longer.
8) Start Paying Your Loan Interest Now
Realistically, you probably won’t have the money to make full loan payments. The good news is that they don’t technically start until six months after you graduate, and even small payments before that can make a big difference. Only paying interest on your loans while in college can be inexpensive for students with an average amount of debt over time.
9) Be Smart About Your Media
Cutting the cord on cable can save as much as $85 per month. Chances are that as a college student, you’re not paying for the full package anyway. Still, it makes sense to be smart about your media consumption. Pick a streaming service of your choice, and stick with it. If you want to watch a show on a service you don’t have a subscription for, a watch party at your friend’s house can be just as (if not more) fun.
10) Make a Budget and Stick to it
In a simple spreadsheet, outline your budget in a given month. Then, contrast that with your expected expenses. As the month goes on, track how much you’re actually spending. That way, you can make sure that you never spend money you don’t have on something you don’t need. To make things easier, apps like Mint allow you to track everything on your phone.
11) Build Savings Into Your Budget
Most college students are happy just ending a month without venturing out of your budget. That’s perfectly fine, and a great first step. But once you can reliably achieve that, why not go further? If you already follow a budget, you can easily build a plan for savings. Simply make a small addition to your savings account (even as little as $20 a month) a part of your expenses. That way, you plan with it rather than hoping that some money will be left over at the end.
12) Never Stop Looking for Scholarships
The hunt for scholarships shouldn’t be over by the time you get in. Some of your financial aid might be renewable, as long as you re-apply; you just have to know when and how to do that. In addition, thousands of scholarships are available to new and continuing students every year. This U.S. Department of Education Guide can help you in the process of finding them, applying, and adding to your money.
13) Use the Library When You Can
Some of your classes might have their textbooks available at the school’s library. You may also find digital and physical subscriptions to journals and magazines in your major, which means you won’t need to pay for them yourself. Finally, you can save a large sum of money by using the library’s printer, rather than investing in one of your own. As long as it’s easy to access when you need it, the library might just become your favorite spot on campus.
14) Don’t Isolate Yourself
Being honest and talking about any money problems you might have could be enough to help you better manage your money. This makes you more accountable and intentional in your financial goals. Your parents might be able to give you tips on where to save, or simply lend an ear when needed. In situations where you really need it, they might also be able to loan you some money to avoid credit card debt.
15) Plan Beyond Graduation
Finally, think about starting your post-graduation plan early. Understand how much you will have to pay back in loans once you graduate. Learn about the best possible plan to pay back, consolidate, or refinance your loans. At the very least, that will help you understand your future obligations. At best, you’ll be able to use that information to make more responsible, goal-oriented financial decisions, even while you enjoy college life and study for your classes
Saving While in College Doesn’t Have to be Difficult
Some of the tips above require more specific actions than others. Still, they all have one thing in common: they are applicable to many college students across the board. It never hurts to save money, especially considering the debt potentially coming your way once you graduate. So why not start the process early?
That means planning ahead, building a budget, and sticking to it. It also means understanding the way your college charges you money, making a plan for a timely graduation, and learning more about how you’re financing all of it. Above all, managing your money means planning your finances strategically and with the future in mind.
Yes, you’ll have to make some sacrifices, but none of these sacrifices have to be significant. Small cuts here and there, as well as smart choices in your everyday life may be all you need to enjoy the college experience, as protect your bank account balance.