Your first few months of college can be a whirlwind of emotions and activity, especially if you’ve never lived away from home before. You’ll find yourself solely responsible for your time, your work, your meals, and—perhaps most importantly—your money. The stereotype of the “broke college student” might be as old as the institution of college itself. I won’t lie to you—for many, it’s at least partially true. You probably won’t be swimming in money, no matter how little you spend. However, there are ways to ensure you have some extra cash on hand, as long as you learn money management. Here are four easy steps to avoid ending up in your campus poor house:
Plan a budget for money management
In a lot of ways, the college experience is a trial run for the life of an adult in the business 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. There are two main ways to do this. If you’re paying your way through school, start by thinking of the most important payments you have, what you can’t survive college without—tuition, housing, etc. If you don’t have to include those columns, plan out how much you’ll spend on meals, textbooks, gasoline, and other applicable topics. Everyone’s budget is different, but the important thing is to get everything down on paper so you’ll know, at any given moment, how much extra cash you have on hand. Plus, ending up under budget for the week or month is a great feeling.
Learn to cook
The odds are good that, assuming you’re not paying directly for housing or tuition, you’ll end up spending the most money on your meals. 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. 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!
Get a job
It can be very difficult to balance a part-time job in college with your studies, but it’s more than possible and will provide you with extra folding money. 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 physically independent from your parents now, and working your own job is a great way to demonstrate your financial independence as well.
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’s always important, but 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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