A Beginner’s Guide To Money Management In College

Here's a beginner's guide on money management

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Your first few months of college can be as exciting as it is challenging. This is the time to explore new possibilities, make new friends and try new activities. But if you’ve never lived away from home before, this time can be a little daunting too. For the first time ever, you’re solely responsible for your time, your work, your meals, and—perhaps most importantly—your money management.

The stereotype of the “broke college student” might be as old as the institution of college itself but for many, it’s at least partially true. After spending thousands of dollars towards the cost of college, you’ll have very little left to spend. And that little has to go a long way. The only way to stretch your limited funds is to master the basics of budgeting for college students.

Here are 4 simple budgeting tips for college students that will help you get a better handle on your money:

1. Plan a budget for managing your money

In a lot of ways, your college experience is a trial run for your life as an adult in the real world. What’s more grown-up than planning a budget? It’s not fun, but budgeting your money is one of the most practical financial things you can do.

Start by thinking of the most important payments you have to make. These are non-negotiable costs that you have to cover and includes tuition, housing, and college costs. Create a spreadsheet and enter all of these expenses. Then figure out how much you’ll spend on meals, textbooks, gasoline, and other essential expenses.

Everyone’s budget is different, but the important thing is to get everything down on paper or a digital spreadsheet. This way you’ll be able to see at a glance how much extra cash you have on hand to spend on non-essential items.

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2. Learn to cook

Food can be one of the biggest non-academic expenses for college students. Eating in the college café can be just as expensive as getting takeaways regularly. To avoid endless nights of ramen noodles or eating dinner out of the vending machine (both sadly familiar to your lovely author), learning to cook real meals is an investment that will pay off in a major way. This is an aspect that often gets overlooked but it is among the best budgeting tips for college students.

Almost all dorms have a kitchen area with a stove, and making use of this space will help you save a lot of money. You don’t have to be Emeril, but learning to boil water for pasta or grill burgers can be a major help to your wallet. If you really don’t want to cook, stock up on microwaveable food or sandwich supplies so you don’t have to go to the dining hall or order out every single night. It’s hard to believe, but takeout Chinese every night can take its toll on both your stomach and your bank account.

One final note: make sure you consult your roommate (or other people that spend a lot of time in your room) and find out if they have allergies before you buy or make anything!

3. Get a job

It can be very difficult to balance a part-time job in college with your studies. But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Lots of college students take up part-time jobs so they can earn while they learn. When it comes to budgeting for college students, earning an income is just as important as saving money.

Here’s a pro money management tip for college students that can have a huge impact on your future finances. Don’t rush to spend the money you earn on a lavish lifestyle. Instead, consider putting it toward paying off your student loans early so you graduate with less debt. Your future self will be glad you did.

Most colleges offer work study programs for those in financial need, and if not, there are always, ALWAYS coffee shops or cafés on campus or around town that are hiring staff. You won’t be working your dream job, but working part-time is, without a doubt, the easiest way to keep your bank account in the black. Plus, you’re independent from your parents now, and working your own job is a great way to demonstrate your financial independence as well.

4. Pay attention to what you’re buying

This point, while simple on the surface, cannot be overstated. Even the most frugal people make mistakes with their money from time to time. It is absolutely imperative to make sure you’re not spending more money than you should, especially if it isn’t worth it. For example, make sure that you compare textbook prices from different sites (especially looking into used books) before you buy a new edition from the campus bookstore. Odds are that you’ll find a better deal online than you would on campus.

Money is always important, but more so in college. You never know when you’ll find yourself in need of a few extra bills. Don’t make frivolous purchases—and make sure you know where to find the best deal—and your wallet will be just fine.

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