It’s no secret that college education is expensive. And those tuition costs just seem to keep inflating. But students often enter college with little money, resources, or work experience.
So what’s a poor freshman to do? Well, you can start by following our ultimate guide to financial survival in college.
One of the first and most important habits to establish as part of your financial survival kit is to maintain a budget. Keep track of all your expenses and all your income. You might try using an online service or app, such as Mint, that makes budgeting simple and easy.
Allocate money towards an estimate for things you might need to spend on—you could, for instance, plan to reserve $50 a month for partying or shopping.
And speaking of putting money on reserve, don’t forget to add to a savings account on a regular basis. Try not to touch this money unless you really need it. When that time comes, you’ll be so glad you have a little extra funds to get you through.
One more note, filing taxes goes right along with budgeting. Now is a good time to learn how to file your taxes properly.
Student debt is a real struggle. Sometimes applying for scholarships can seem tedious, but it is so much easier than dealing with the debt that follows you around after graduation otherwise. Look around for scholarships that suit your talents, interests, or planned major. Additionally, if you’re looking for something quick and effortless, try applying for these easy scholarships—each takes literal seconds to apply. There’s nothing to lose!
While scholarships are helpful, sometimes, they’re not quite enough to pay a student’s full tuition. That’s when it’s time to look at other financial aid options, such as grants and loans.
Grants are essentially free money—it’s donated to you and needs no repayment. Grants can come from the federal or state government, organizations, businesses, or your college or university.
You can also use student loans to help pay your way through college. You can complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to get assistance based on income level, or you can research private loans through local banks. Just remember, this money will have to be paid back eventually. When offered excess of your tuition cost, try to borrow only the money that you really need for school, and perhaps some basic living expenses.
Coupon apps & spending tips
Remember, there are some perks that come with your student status. Many places offer student discounts if you just show your student ID. When in doubt, you can always ask—you might be surprised what you can get at a fraction of the price.
A common mistake is only budgeting for the essentials—like rent, groceries, and school supplies—but then spontaneously spending on nonessential items and activities and running out of money. Instead, plan for those expenses. Allot a spending limit on fun things to buy or experience throughout each month.
In addition to your student discount, you may also have access to a plethora of discounts and deals online if you know where to look. Consider checking out coupon and reward tools like Wikibuy or Honey are an excellent place to start. These apps search for the lowest prices and active discount codes, so you can get the best bang for your buck with online purchases.
Use your resources
Try out some of these ideas to use the variety of resources available to you as a student. For instance, use the local or university library for printing and scanning, books, and even movies. Use a family member’s streaming service subscription (as long as you keep within the agreed terms of service). Keep tabs on events around campus, as they sometimes provide free food, and a bonus opportunity to meet new people and learn cool things. You can even use your roommates as a resource to rotate meal assignments or other chore duties throughout the week.
Save on textbooks & transportation
As a college student, textbooks and transportation can suck a lot of money out of your pockets. But there are a few strategies to save some change on these needs.
When possible, avoid paying full price for textbooks. Many bookstores allow you to rent for much less than purchasing. Or search online—like on Chegg or Facebook Marketplace—to buy used books at a much lower cost. Alternatively, split the cost with a classmate and trade off throughout the semester. Though a bit more of a gamble, you could also try attending a few classes, and if the textbook isn’t actually used much, opt out of buying altogether.
Getting from place to place at school is often another big expense. You can save a lot on a car by buying previously owned. But you could save even more if you choose a combination of public transportation, biking, or walking to get around. Not only do these methods save you chunks of moolah, biking and walking are great exercise, and riding a bus or train gives you additional time to study.
Use credit cards… wisely
Opening a credit account can be a great start to a good credit score, which will help you out in the future. Some credit cards also offer cash back or rewards points. Look for one with the best offerings and interest rates before you make your selection. And be sure to pay it off as quickly as possible any time you make a purchase—within the month, if possible. This is also key to improving your credit rating.
Your budget will thank you for limiting your outgoing money, but you’ve gotta find ways to increase your incoming money, too. Of course, there’s always the traditional part-time job you could do on the side of your schooling time. Look for job opportunities at the college or university you’re attending—it could be a chance to network and make connections that will prove helpful as you move toward your future career.
You could also take a less-traditional route to make money. Ask your career center about paid internships, offer freelance services, become a tutor, or even start a business (why not?). Sometimes a hobby, such as blogging, can be turned into a money-making opportunity. If you’re willing, keep an eye out for drug trials that need test subjects to make some extra cash. Making money can even be as easy as becoming a virtual friend (yep, it’s a real thing).
Putting in your time, money, and energy toward a college degree is a lot of work—and it definitely pays off in the long run. It’s a big investment in yourself that will bring endless opportunities as you head into your career. Follow our financial survival tips, and you’ll make it through your education ready to reap the rewards that await you.