Professional Writing major, College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Many students enter college with little to nothing in their bank accounts. College is time when individuals may have various things they want to do, yet have limited money. This is when understanding the importance of money management is essential.
Dave Ramsey, a famous financial guru, once said:
“You must gain control over your money, or the lack of it will forever control you.”*
Gaining an early understanding of—and strategy for—your finances will set you up for success in the future. Here are some tips to help you get started.
10 Budget Tips for College Students
1. Create a Budget and Honor It
Although this may sound boring and like something only parents do, having a budget can help you enormously with managing your finances.
Start by listing your monthly income sources and amounts, including savings, wages and allowances. Then write down estimated expenses for the month.
Some expenses for a college student may include:
- Food outside your meal plan
- Coffee dates and outings with friends
- School supplies
- Car insurance
- Monthly subscriptions
- Personal care
2. Let Apps Help With Your Budget
Budgeting does not require being a math whiz or a spreadsheet expert. There are apps for that. Consider downloading a money-management app, such as Quicken or Mint, that can help you create and honor your budget. Your bank may also have free tools that can tell you exactly where your money is going.
3. Make a List of Wants and Needs
Do you really need that new top from Target? Or the latest video game? How much do all your monthly subscriptions cost, and is it always necessary to go out for coffee?
The more time you take to consider what you want and compare it with what you need, the easier it becomes to distinguish between the two.
Before going shopping, make a list; then buy only what is on that list. If you have a hard time controlling your spending, avoid going to stores just to “look around.” Another effective strategy is to give yourself a weekly cash allowance instead of always having your debit card on hand.
4. Learn to Say No
After you plot your lists of wants and needs, you need to keep yourself accountable. This means saying “no” to yourself and others frequently. You may want an iced coffee because it’s hard to walk by the coffee shop without ordering something, but if it is not in your budget, keep walking. Tomorrow you can make yourself an iced coffee at home and bring it with you. If your friends decide to go to the movies and your entertainment budget is already maxed out, invite them over to watch a movie at your place instead, or just say “no, thank you.”
Be Credit Wise
5. Have a Credit Card, But Do Not Abuse It
While you may feel apprehensive about credit cards, they are essential to establishing credit and building a good credit score so you can get a bank loan in the future. Make it a rule to use your credit card only for gas or a plane ticket home. That way, you can establish credit without going into debt.
The rule of thumb is always, “Don’t spend what you don’t have.” Therefore, use the credit card only when you have the money in your checking account to pay it off right then and there. Trouble starts with using a credit card as a justification for buying things. Credit is not free money, and your credit rating will suffer if you accumulate too much debt.
6. Resist Being Enticed by Credit Card Extras
Many credit cards offer zero interest for the first year. After that, the interest rate increases dramatically. Watch out for this and know what the rate will be if you do carry a balance on your card. Also, be wary of rewards and travel points. Many of these extras require you to spend a certain amount of money, and redeeming the points for actual goods and services can be difficult. Stick with a simple, low-interest card and pay it off each month.
7. Keep an Eye on Your Credit
The three major credit bureaus offer free credit reports. You can go to their websites and enter your personal information to see what your credit score is. You will also see what lines of credit are open in your name, which can help you catch identity theft early.
Your credit score can affect everything from what kinds of loans you qualify for to how much interest you will be charged. Every time you apply to open a new line of credit, it triggers inquiries into your credit that then show up on your credit report. Too many inquiries into your credit can bring down your score.
Money Management for College Students: Earn and Save
8. Get a Part-Time Job
While the primary focus should always be your studies, having a job in college can provide you with experience, new friends and money to put toward savings and experiences with your friends. Having some extra cash will also help if you face unexpected expenses, such as car repairs or buying a new computer.
9. Put 20% Into Savings
For each paycheck you receive, put 20% of it into savings.** You can make occasional exceptions for instances when you need more money, but try to contribute to your savings at least once a month. These contributions will add up over time and, before you know it, you will have some reserves for when you graduate and the student loans start rolling in.
10. Use Coupons
There are now many great online coupon sites and apps. You can download browser extensions that will search for deals for the merchandise you want to buy online. They will give you a code to enter when you check out so you can save money on your purchases.
Before you buy anything online, shop around to see if you can find it for less somewhere else. Then, look for coupons for the store or the product. The more you save on the things you buy, the more you can add to your savings account.
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*Dave Ramsey (2002). “Financial Peace Revisited: New Chapters on Marriage, Singles, Kids and Families,” p. 30, Penguin.
**Money Under 30, How Much Should You Save Every Month? In March 2021.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.