You’ve spent four long years preparing for college. Improved grades? Check. Better study habits? You bet. Increased leadership and extra-curricular roles? Done! Managing personal finances? Well, maybe that’s a work in progress.
As you get ready to leave home for the independent challenges of college life, how much have you really learned about money management in your 18 years? Sure, you know how to use an ATM card and to cash a check. But can you live within a budget, determine the best credit card interest rate, save for long-and short-term goals and understand how late or unpaid bills can affect your credit history?
Because some lessons shouldn’t be learned the hard way, here’s some information that every college student should know about money, compiled from the National Endowment for Financial Education, TCU’s BALANCE Financial Fitness Program and other sources.
Talk with your parents
Know beforehand what you can expect in financial support from mom and dad. Have a talk with them about what they’ll pay for and what will be your responsibility.
Take control of your money
You’ll be on your own in college. That means you’ll need to develop a budget and ensure you don’t spend more than you have.
Organize your financial and other important paperwork. Create a filing system for your health, medical and other insurance documents, important receipts and warranties, financial aid information and taxes. Make copies of important documents, such as copies of your birth certificate and Social Security card.
Open a credit union account
If you don’t already have TCU Free Checking, open a new account and keep money in it for your daily expenses. Use online and mobile banking to monitor your account and balances. Download our iPhone® app from the App Store or Android app from Google Play! Put the rest in a savings account.
Safeguard your data
Protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft by safeguarding your personal information, including your Social Security number, credit card or bank account numbers. Be sure your personal data is secure when conducting online transactions. Review all of your monthly statements for unauthorized use.
Pursue all Financial Aid
If you are receiving financial aid, determine what you need to do each semester or year to renew it. While at your campus Financial Aid Office, inquire about scholarships, grants, work-study jobs and other means of obtaining “free” money that can help pay for college.
Be mindful of student loans
Student loans are an investment in your future. But they’re also a debt you’ll have to repay over the next few decades. If you need a loan for school, search for the lowest interest rates and for terms that fit your budget.
Monitor your credit card use
It’s easy to run up your credit card balance, so think of credit card use as a loan. Don’t charge for anything you can’t pay right away. Make a payment way before the due date to avoid a late fee. Only use cash advances from your card in an emergency.
Establish good credit practices
With every credit card, loan and bill payment, you’re building your credit history that will help you one day buy a car or home. Strive to pay your bills, loans and credit cards on time. Don’t bounce checks and don’t apply for too many credit cards.
Seek a campus job
Most colleges offer an array of part-time jobs for students. You’ll gain work experience and earn spending money. Check with your campus employment office about job opportunities.
Turn your skills into profit
Do you excel at a particular subject or craft? Become an entrepreneur by offering your skills as a tutor, a computer repair specialist, baby-sitter, cookie-baker or other task to earn some spending money.
Choose a meal plan you’ll use
If you’re buying a campus meal plan, select one that fits your needs. An unlimited plan sounds like a feast but why pay for it all if you’re a light eater? Also, make sure you use all of your meal plan credit before it expires.
Buy snacks from the grocer
Snacks from the dorm or student center vending machine may be convenient but they’ll be costly. Instead, stop by the neighborhood grocer, where you’ll get a better selection of snacks in larger quantities and pay less than items from a vending machine.
Seek help if debt grows
If your expenses are outpacing your income, seek financial help. Some telltale signs include borrowing from one credit card to pay another, making late bill payments and receiving calls from debt collectors. Seek help from on-campus financial counselors. (TCU members have access to free confidential debt counseling through our BALANCE Financial Fitness Program.)
Use student discounts
Be a frugal consumer by taking advantage of student discounts at stores, restaurants and public transportation systems. Check your campus newspaper, online, billboards and area publications for discounts.
Resist peer pressure
One savvy way to cut expenses is to resist peer pressure to spend money. Pass if classmates want to go on expensive weekend trips or attend pricey out-of-town concerts. Instead, focus on low-cost events around campus that are more affordable and just as fun. Being able to say, “No, I can’t afford that” is just another way of saying you know how to manage your money.
Identify needs and wants
To save money in college, you’ll need to separate your wants from your needs. When considering a purchase, ask yourself if what you’re buying is a need (such as next semester’s textbooks) or it is merely a want (the next generation of a video game).
Use alternative modes of transportation
Having a car at college is a luxury but it may not be a necessity. If your campus is designed so most students can walk, bike or ride a shuttle to get to where they’re going, leave your car at home. You’ll save money on parking fees and gas.
Use campus amenities
Your tuition and fees have paid for the amenities found on campus, such as your library’s computer lab. If you don’t already own a computer, see if you can manage using a school computer. It’s a service you’ve already paid for.
Dorm or campus
If living off-campus with your college buddies seems like a no-brainer, do the math first to see if it really is. Does the added costs of electricity, water, sewage, heating and cooling, gas and cable, along with your share of the rent, transportation and parking, make more financial sense than a dorm room?
Remember the big picture
No matter how you’re paying for college, don’t let financial matters get in the way of the big picture: Graduation! Make your studies the foremost priority. Get as much out of every class as possible by participating in discussions, activities and events.
Sources: National Endowment for Financial Education, 40 Money Management Tips Every College Student Should Know, 2009 BALANCE Financial Fitness Program