College is like an introduction to the adult world. You’re getting a taste of what it’s like to live and provide for yourself, and to say that this is stressful would be a major understatement. All that cooking, cleaning, time organization, studying, and to top it all off, money management. It’s a lot to handle.
Luckily, you’ll feel overwhelmed only for a short while. We’re here to help you through one part of this new mix of responsibilities – saving and earning money. It sounds scary, it seems confusing, but it’s way easier than you think. Here’s how you can manage your money in college.
Make a budget spreadsheet
The only way to manage money is to be completely aware of what’s really happening to it. If you haven’t been in charge of your own finances before, you’ll soon realize that even large amounts of money can melt away faster than a snowball in summer. And the worst thing is, you won’t even know how you managed to spend it that fast. A Starbucks latte here, a beer with buddies there, and soon you’re halfway through your monthly allowance in only five days. Those small purchases that you don’t even think about add up. So, how can you control what’s happening with your cash? Start budgeting!
Seriously, make a big spreadsheet (incidentally, learning how to make spreadsheets is a useful business skill), and track your expenses. You’ll need to track two things: fixed monthly expenses and variable monthly expenses.
Fixed monthly expenses are things like housing, utility bills, fuel cost, textbooks, and anything that has a fixed price. Variable expenses are things like groceries, clothes, restaurant visits, and other costs that vary through the month. Having a clear outline of the current state of your finances will show you how you need to spend your money to make sure all your bills are always paid, and how much you’ll really have at your disposal after you’ve settled important financial obligations. You can find a free template spreadsheet for student budgeting here.
Try out budgeting apps
If you don’t want to bother learning how to use spreadsheets, you don’t have to. Instead, install apps like Mint, Wally, Goodbudget, YNAB, Acorns, or PocketGuard to help you budget. PocketGuard is free for everyone, while Acorns and YNAB are generally paid apps, but they’re free for students.
Choose your credit cards carefully
If you want to have a credit card, don’t pick just any card. Students can actually score some pretty good deals out there, and you can actually find cashback credit cards to help you save money. For example, the Standard Chartered Unlimited Cashback credit card will give you up to 5% cash back on your purchases if you have a savings account. If you’re getting your very first credit card ever, then you’ll want to make sure you’re getting something that will help you save your cash, not burn through it.
On one hand, living alone is a great way to learn independence, on the other, it’s exceptionally expensive for a student. Consider your housing options – will you be living in a dorm? Will you rent an apartment? We recommend that you find a roommate (or several) if you plan to rent.
If your finances are really stretched thin, consider staying with your parents if it’s an option. You’ll save a lot of money, but you’ll sacrifice some independence. Weigh the pros and cons and decide whether this is something you want.
Ride a bike
Cars are great, but they’re expensive to take care of. With fuel and maintenance, you might have to spend a lot just to keep a car running. That’s why bikes are a great option for students – not only are they a million times cheaper to maintain, but they’re eco-friendly, too. There’s no need to kick up your carbon footprint so early on in life.
Apply for every student discount imaginable
Your student card is your golden ticket to discount express. There are student discounts for practically everything from movie tickets, to travel deals. However, not every company will announce that they give discounts to students, so it’s on you to ask. And don’t be shy – everyone wants to support students, so do some research or just talk to people to learn where the best deals are.
Find second-hand textbooks
Textbooks are ridiculously expensive sometimes. It’s nice to have shiny new books to learn from, but if they’re too costly, consider buying them second-hand from old students. You can also find plenty of old textbooks on Amazon or TextbookRentals.
Find a job
There are a ton of jobs for students, and you just need to be proactive about looking for them. From part-time waitressing jobs at your local coffee shop, to online tutoring and freelance gigs at sites like Upwork. It might be tricky to balance your studies with your job, but if you manage, you’ll learn some important skills like time management and work ethics, which will be very useful later in life. You don’t have to become the stereotypical poor student. Be careful with how you spend cash, find a job if you need to, and you’ll enjoy a greater financial freedom.