Whatever your major, you should minor in personal finance. Learn how to find money for college, and master the fine art of maximizing the value of the money you have.
Experts report that financial difficulties rank second among the causes of college attrition. More importantly, those experts have found the majority of students who leave college with money woes could have prevented their problems if they had known how to manage their expenses. Therefore, folks with clipboards and calculators very strongly recommend you…
Learn the rules of good money management.
Set a budget and follow it. No deviations. No “little slips.” As you plan your budget, be realistic, acknowledging the places where you are highly unlikely to economize, and imposing strict discipline on the places where you honestly must admit you always waste money. After you have rough-drafted your budget, look for the places where you “leak” money: how often do you buy coffee from a campus vendor? How often do you pump quarters or dollars into video games? Reduce those expenses to zero.
Manage your partying.
Experts on “the freshman year experience” have discovered some undergraduates spend up to 30% of their money and time on “partying,” a college synonym for binge drinking. Those experts do not suggest “get thee to a nunnery,” but they do recommend you “budget” your partying in the same way you budget everything else. How much money can you afford, and how much time can you carve out of a healthy schedule for drinking and hangover recovery? Studies indicate the most successful students party once after midterms and once after finals. That’s it.
Develop other frugal habits.
Walk or ride your bike as often as you can. Do not go “home” more than three times each year—the “big” holidays. Work during spring break instead of taking-off for Cabo. Sell your books at the end of each semester. Recycle bottles and cans, because the price for aluminum is now more than $2 per pound, and you inevitably generate several pounds of cans every week or so.
Capitalize on student discounts…everywhere!
Your student ID has cash value, and your campus newspaper probably has wall-to-wall ads for local businesses offering handsome discounts in exchange for your regular patronage. Many near-campus businesses probably have regular weekly specials for students; check them out. Periodically put your research skills to work, scouting the internet for deep student discounts.
Use other people’s money.
Exercise extreme caution about student loans. Although the interest rates remain at historic lows, your debt accumulates quickly, and it will affect your credit for a long-long-long time. The average college graduate leaves school with nearly $100,000 in student loan debt.
Even with all those cautions, do your best to pay for school with other people’s money. Try to secure grants, scholarships, student on-campus employment, and paid internships. Many large corporations offer tuition assistance for their employees; check with your HR supervisor to find out how to get that support. According to The College Board, students leave nearly $2 billion in financial aid unclaimed every year. Every major college and university has both financial aid and scholarship offices. Recruit them for your team, and then play the season, which runs from November through February, more or less concurrent with the college admissions season. Keep your FAFSA up to date, and apply for just about everything that’s available. Do not, however, work with a “scholarship service,” a phrase which here means “big money scam.”
Learn all about credit. Then, don’t use it.
The first rule of personal finance: Do not spend money you do not have. And, when you do spend money, use only cash. During the first week of every semester, the credit card companies set-up tables at the busiest places on campus, and they put pretty girls to work soliciting new “cardmembers.”
They offer great “teaser” rates and remarkably high credit limits. These people are not your friends. When you read the fine print—especially the late payment and default penalties—you quickly will discover you will pay about $5 for every fifty cents you charge on your officially licensed college logo credit card. Yes, when you collect your diploma, you will make big bucks. In the meantime, do not collect credit cards, because they put you in the diamond lane to financial disaster.
Learn to cook.
You probably are hemorrhaging money and packing on pounds by relying on fast food. Yes, you bought last night’s pizza with a coupon and your student discount. Good job. Still, you could have made five tasty Bisquick pizzas for what you spent on that one commercial pie, and your home-built specials would have tasted better than the pizza guy’s cardboard crust. Similarly, for the price of a number-one combination at any fast food restaurant, you can make at least five number-one combos at home, and you can use all-natural ingredients. You need not recreate the controlled study. Just act on the knowledge that for the price of one fast-food meal, you typically can make five of the same meals at home. If you live in the dorms and have only a microwave and mini-fridge, you still have healthy and inexpensive options. Take a field trip to Trader Joe’s.
The average college student completes his or her degree in just over six years—along time to live frugally. When they graduate, however, students carry away not only diplomas but also money management skills to last a lifetime.
As a couponer and college advisor in the UK, Mary Blanchard knows the ins and outs of finding the best deals in college. She has found many of her best deals on the Coupon Croc, check them out and see why she recommends them.