5 Personal Finance Tips for College Students


For many young adults, going away to college comes with a great increase in independence. Suddenly, you’re in control of your own money and finances. This transition can be exciting, but it can also be a little challenging to navigate. The personal finance tips below can come in handy for college students who are trying to spend and save responsibly.

1. Create a budget.

College is a great time to make budgeting a habit so you can then continue that habit throughout the rest of your life. Budgeting makes sure you know where all of your money is going. It’s basically creating a spending plan.

There are many incredible, smartphone-based budgeting tools you can use. You could also create your own spreadsheet to track your finances. Create categories for everything you spend money on, from utilities, to groceries, to going out with friends. Write down how much you plan to spend each month, and then write down what you actually spend.

If there are categories you continually over-spend in, then you need to either expand your budget in those categories or cut back your spending. 

2. Work When You Can

You may have time to work 20 hours a week while you’re in college, or you may only have time to work when you’re on a semester break. Just do the best you can to earn some money while you’re studying. Every dollar you earn is one less dollar than you need to take out in student loans. And since student loans come with interest, you’ll end up paying back more than a dollar for every dollar you borrow.

3. Open a Student Checking Account

If you don’t already have your own checking account, independent from your parents, now is the time to open one. Many banks offer college checking accounts with zero fees or very few fees. There may even be a bank that partners with your college and has ATMs on campus. Your college’s financial office should be able to give you information about these options.

4. Pay off Your Credit Card Every Month

Opening a credit card in college can be a wise choice as it allows you to start building a credit history. Your credit history will come in handy down the road when you apply for an auto loan or a mortgage. However, you must make sure you pay your credit card off every month. Interest rates on credit card debt are very high, but if you pay your bill monthly, you’ll never pay interest.

5. Keep Your Living Arrangements Affordable

It’s easy to be lured in by the luxury student apartments or the off-campus community with tanning beds and a pool. However, taking out extra student loans to live in more expensive housing will mean you’ll have to live on a tighter budget once you graduate. Larger loans could delay your ability to purchase a home or live independently post-graduation.

As much as possible, try to keep your living arrangements affordable while in college. Share an apartment with a roommate or two. Live a little further from campus if that doesn’t make transportation an issue. Sign a 9-month lease and move back home over the summer. Don’t live anywhere unsafe or illegal, but be willing to compromise for aesthetics.

It’s normal for your finances to be tight when you’re in college, but don’t let that deter you from developing good financial habits. If you follow the tips above, you’ll not only be living in a financially responsible manner; you’ll also be preparing for a financially responsible future. 

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