The Freshman 15: Essential Finance Tips for College Students

It’s almost that time of year again! College students are enjoying their last few weeks of summer before heading off to school.

College students have more pressure than ever to be financially responsible, between rising tuition costs, text books, school supplies, accommodations – and of course finding a way to factor in their social lives. It’s no easy feat! Here are 15 tips for college students to keep their bank accounts fat and their finances in shape.

1. Take Advantage of Student Discounts

Not all stores advertise that they offer student discounts, so always remember to ask! Your Student ID can get you access to discounts on everything from laptops and fast food, and airlines tickets to clothing. It never hurts to ask!

2. Get What You Pay For

Colleges offer tons of free resources to students, so be sure to check and see what you have access to! Don’t waste money on things like gym memberships, eating out, or seeing a doctor when you likely already have access to a fitness center, meal plan, and university clinic as part of your tuition.

3. Budget

Though this doesn’t apply to just college students, it is an important habit that should be started now if you haven’t already. Whether you have help from parents or not, most college students are on a fairly limited budget and are faced with more temptations and less parental supervision than they’re used to. It is important to track your expenses month to month to ensure you are not spending more than you can afford. Make categories for different expenses like school supplies, food, shopping, and entertainment, decide on a spending limit for each, and stick to it!

4. Stay Away from Credit Cards

Resist using a series of cards to support your social life. It can be tempting to pay with plastic for concert tickets or a night out, but you risk spending more than you can afford to pay at the end of the month and then being hit with hefty interest charges. Instead, stick to just one credit card with a low limit. This can help you out in a pinch and also help you to develop a positive credit history.

5. Find the Right Bank

College is a crucial time to start developing healthy financial habits, and finding the right bank can help make it easier. Look for a bank that has a local branch and ATMs near you, low fee accounts for students, and online banking so you can easily check your accounts and pay your bills.

6. Do Your Homework on Financial Aid

Students should take time to research all of their options because student loans are just one of many available sources of financial aid. Federal loans typically have the lowest interest rates compared to pricey private loans, and there are also a variety of grants and scholarships available (even year-round). Be sure to find out what options you are eligible for, make sure you understand the terms of your loans, and take time to pay a visit to your school’s financial aid office.

7. Start Paying Early

Do yourself a huge favor and consider paying at least some of the interest on your student loans while still in school or before your grace period ends. This can not only save you a lot of money in the long run, but will also help you develop good financial habits early on and help ease the burden once you are done school and starting out in your career.

8. Be Smart When Shopping for Textbooks

Textbooks can be one of a college student’s biggest expenses, with many costing upwards of $300 each! Find out if any of your books are available in digital form – they are cheaper this way – or look for used books online or through a used book sale at your school.

9. Protect Yourself from Fraud

The last thing you need when you are learning to live within your means is to find you have no money in your account because you’ve been a victim of credit or debit card fraud. Takes steps to ensure you are protected, such as regularly checking your statements, avoiding “shady” ATMs, and getting yourself a chip card.

10. Get Creative with Your Social Life

Dining and entertainment are one of the biggest threats to your financial wellbeing in college. No one wants to stop you from having fun and meeting new people, but a little creativity when it comes to your social life can help your budget go a long way. Look for free on-campus events like concerts and sporting events, check out sites like Groupon.com  for local deals, or host friends for a game or movie night.

11. Take Care of Your Belongings

Avoid having to replace expensive items like your phone or laptop by taking proper care of them. If sharing a house or apartment with roommates, invest in a safe or lock for your room, and be careful not to leave technology around when having people over. Even if you aren’t worried about items being stolen, they could still be damaged by things like spilled drinks or food.

12. Use Public Transportation

Unless you are commuting to school from a rural area, chances are you can ditch the car and use public transportation instead. The costs of a car long, gas, maintenance, and insurance can add up quickly and eat away at your finances. Consider walking, biking, or taking the bus and use the money you save to put towards school supplies, your student loans, savings, or as “fun” money instead.

13. Make Some Money On the Side

Your education is priority, but consider taking on a flexible part-time job while in school to earn a little extra money. Even working a day or two per week can give you the extra spending money to need to enjoy going out guilt-free. Check with your school to see what opportunities they have, pick up an easy side hustle like walking some neighborhood dogs, or look online for freelance work that will boost your skills like blog writing.

14. Ask Questions

This amount of financial responsibility is new to you and no one expects you to know everything right away. If you need help… ask! Your parents, your bank, and your college’s financial aid office are great places to start, and there are tons of great resources online as well. You are always better off asking questions right away than cleaning up costly mistakes that could have been avoided.

15. Invest in Your Future

Look for internships and volunteer opportunities to take part in throughout college. While this may not offer you any financial benefits now, it will help you stand out later when you are trying to land your dream job after graduation.

College is stressful enough as it is and the last thing you need is to worry about money, too. Use these tips to keep your finances in check so you can focus on your grades and having fun!

Are you heading off to school this fall? How do you plan to keep your finances in check throughout the school year? Feel free to comment below!

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