Unless you recently won the lottery, managing your money is likely a priority for you. Money management can feel monstrous and overwhelming, and when you’re a student, balancing that bank account might seem doubly difficult.
Going back to school may have prompted you to quit your second job in order to balance your new load of homework plus your other life responsibilities. Or maybe you’ve just seen the bill for your textbooks this semester and felt your stomach drop. Or it’s possible you’ve just never really had to pay much attention to how much you spent on groceries or where that monthly Spotify subscription left your checking account.
Whatever the culprit is, you know you need some help with managing money in college and we’re here to help. We gathered tips from both financial experts and college students like you. Take a look at these 10 quick tips for mastering money management.
10 money management tips for college students
1. Budget for everything
It can be easy to assume bills are the only thing you need to include in your monthly budget. Wrong! Those Starbucks coffee runs can add up fast.
“The biggest thing I've learned is to have a budget for practically everything,” says Yogin Patel, a sophomore at Arizona State University. “That means dedicate funds every month towards eating out, going to the movies, late-night snacks, books and supplies, socializing, etc. Keep in mind these budgets should let you save a portion of money every month, which is key.”
So where do you even start with creating a budget? Check out these basic budgeting apps!
2. Purchase used school books & sell your old ones
Prices for certain textbooks have reached astronomical levels. It can also be difficult to get yourself over to the bookstore at the start of the semester when you know you’re about to spend way more than you’d like.
Search on Amazon for used textbooks, or shop places like Chegg or Valore, which hold loads of used textbooks for much less than if you bought them from your university bookstore. Another money-saving tactic would be to take advantage of any eBook offerings from your school.
3. Automate your savings
It might feel fruitless to put away a bit of your paycheck into savings each month, but that kind of perseverance pays off in the long run. If you’re one who struggles to save a portion of your earnings on pay day, make the decision once and for all and automate your savings. Most banks have a link on their website in order to help you set this up. If you run into questions, call your bank teller and inquire about your options.
4. Get creative & find fun for free
It’s tempting to go out to eat and plan social activities that revolve around spending money. After all, what else is there to do in life that doesn’t cost money? Well—a lot of things!
David Bakke, a finance expert at Money Crashers, suggests replacing a few nights of bar-hopping with some at-home entertainment. Host a game night or rent a movie and enjoy a little entertainment free of charge. There’s a good chance you can find a few friends who are on-board with saving some cash.
5. Steer clear of automated payments
This is different from automating your savings. We live in an age where “lazy” shopping is becoming the new norm for many. Automated payments for subscription services like Spotify or Audible can add up quickly. Beware of media, fashion and other shopping subscriptions that require a monthly fee. Instead, allocate that money toward some necessities – or just save it altogether!
While you might miss your monthly box of makeup samples during while you’re in school, bypassing those fees will take some of the sting out of paying tuition.
6. Cook at home
Cooking at home doesn’t mean you can never eat out. But if grabbing a salad from the local deli or swinging by the Dairy Queen after dinner has become a habit, try and cut back a bit.
Cooking at home can be fun, inventive and even a great social activity. While it may require some planning ahead, a lot of money can be saved by purchasing ingredients from your local supermarket and making the most of leftovers.
7. Earn some extra cash
“Work as much as you can without hindering your studies,” says Chenell Tull from BrightCents.com. “Even a part-time job is great to give you some spending money and help pay off student loan interest while you are in school.”
Depending on what you’re majoring in, freelance work may be a great option to make a little money on the side. If your degree doesn’t offer many opportunities for freelance work, consider other creative ways to make money. Start an Etsy shop, sell some clothes you’ve been meaning to get rid of or host a garage sale with your friends.
8. Pay in cash
Swiping your credit card at the register is simple—sometimes a little too simple! It’s easy to forget that equates to actual money. Once you get your paycheck and allocate what needs to go to tuition, bills and other monthly payments, use cash for other areas of your budget.
Handing a crisp twenty-dollar bill to the grocery store clerk might feel different to you than paying with plastic, but it will help you avoid overspending. Once the cash is gone, it’s gone!
9. Use online coupons
Many businesses offer different deals online than they would if you were to purchase in-store. There are also plenty of online applications that can help alert you to promotional codes a website may offer.
George Ruan helped create the browser extension Honey for just that purpose. “Using Honey can help college students save a lot of cash when they are shopping online and helps stretch a student budget,” Ruan says. “It works on everything from pizza to textbooks!”
10. Beware of the ‘it’s only 5 bucks!’ syndrome
“You can 5-buck your way to poverty and debt more quickly than you think,” says Tana Gildea, author of The Graduate’s Guide to Money. She explains that while a dollar a day spent in the vending machine may seem harmless, it equates to $30 per month.
“Did you really want to allocate $30 to soda, candy and crackers?” she asks. “Probably not, but it sneaks up on you. Try to reverse that trend and save a buck a day.”
Consider your purchases carefully, and include those extra snacks and smartphone app purchases in your budget. That way, you’ll be sure to keep your finances in check.
There’s more where this came from
Incorporating these tips and tricks into your daily life is a great way to start managing money in college. These simple habits can help you feel more confident in your financial standing while earning your degree.
Looking for more ways to save some money in school? Learn more about how to find scholarships!
Do you have another helpful money management tip for college students? Share it in the comments below!