Are you mostly a saver or a spender? A lot of us develop a signature financial style while in college that stays with us the rest of our lives – for good or for bad. So why not learn how to manage money wisely while still in college, so you can build on that the rest of your life? Here are some tips on how to do just that when school starts this fall.
Create a budget. Keeping track of how much you spend each week or month will let you figure out: (1) where your money is going; and (2) where you can cut costs. Some good budget-tracking options are the Mint.com app or the budgeting software built into Excel. Or just put pencil to paper. After a couple of months, you’ll start to see trends – where most of your money is going can be a real eye-opener, be it on clothes, books, food or music.
Are you dropping serious change at Starbucks or for Thai takeout? Sorry to sound harsh, but these should be occasional treats, not daily must-haves. Think about getting your own espresso maker and eating more often in the dining halls, if your parents are already paying for room and board. The resulting savings may surprise you. A $5/day coffee habit totals $150 a month! And $20 a week on takeout is another $80 a month. How hard would it be to save $100 of that each month and invest it?
Be a net saver, not a net spender. Yes, you can. Try to save a bit of money each month, even while in college and even if you’re getting money solely from your parents. You don’t need to spend every single penny of your allowance or your earnings.
Start investing, even in small amounts. We advise starting to invest, even a little bit, while you’re in college. Start out investing perhaps in a mutual fund and track your returns. Find out if there’s an Investment Club on campus and check it out. Even if you’re a business/econ/finance major, find out if your campus offers seminars and/or courses on personal finance. It may come as a shock, but business and econ courses don’t usually teach you much about managing your own money.
Go easy on credit. Have you gotten a credit card offer yet? If not, it’s coming. Thousands of offers are sent out daily to college P.O. boxes. Steer clear of escalating debt and bad credit by doing these two things: (1) use the credit card only if you know there’s money in your checking account to cover the charges; (2) Pay off the balance each month. LNWM Advisor Kelly Sweet, who now has a daughter in college, negotiates with her in advance about what she can charge.
Use campus resources. Most campuses offer free or low-cost services for students: bus and other local transport; loan and financial counseling; legal services; and health care. Try to tap into these offerings as much as possible. Thinking about renting an apartment off campus? Perhaps there’s a legal services center on campus that can look over your lease. If you’re an out-of-state student like I was, it may be more cost effective to have healthcare through your school, since your parents’ coverage may not be as generous out-of-state. Look for a list of student services on your school’s website.
Get textbooks for less. Some textbooks can cost as much as a used car! So shop around for the best price. Websites like Amazon.com, Half.com, and Alibris usually sell books for much less than the campus bookstore. You can even rent textbooks from Chegg.com. And they’re often available for free as e-books while you wait for your “rentals” to arrive. Finally, don’t overlook the campus library, which might have textbooks you can check out for the quarter or semester. When a class ends, and you won’t need a textbook again, plan to sell it online or look for a good buy-back deal. Use that money to buy books for the next quarter/semester. Or invest it.
What Ben Franklin allegedly said is still true: “A penny saved, IS a penny earned.”