- On average, college graduates in 2015 each graduated with more than $35,000 in debt.
- ave money with alternatives to traditional textbooks, scholarships, and meal plans.
- Get a campus job, but balance yourself with a night out every week.
As students hit university campuses across the country this fall, there’s more than a few of them discovering how easy it is to let overspending become a vicious habit.
It may seem tough at first, but getting in the swing of sensible financial habits early in the year is the best way to make sure you don’t go broke by graduation. If you’re a college student (and I’m one myself) you’re probably starting to realize that campus life comes with a lot of financial temptations. Between budgeting for meals, nights out with friends, the steep cost of books, and figuring out how to pay for housing, it’s easy for the inexperienced student to spend too much too quickly without realizing it.
The cost of tuition alone is overwhelming — on average, members of the Class of 2015 graduated with more than $35,000 each in debt from student loans. So cutting costs whenever you can isn’t just practical – it’s necessary.
Students might feel like they have to make social and extracurricular sacrifices to afford college life, but there are countless smaller scale ways to cut back without giving up the unforgettable moments that make up the college experience. Ready to get your finances in check and become a financially savvy student, or help a college student you know? Try these 5 tips to help you ace Personal Finance 101:
1. Save Big On Books
It’s no secret that campus book stores charge an arm and a leg to buy books, so renting is a great option whenever possible. Look into renting from your local college bookstore, or websites like Chegg. Prices in college bookstores are steep even for used books, but with a little investigating for deals on Chegg, the savings will quickly add up. Comparison shopping for books (or groceries, or rent, or happy hour) is an excellent habit to form in college, and it will stick with you for the rest of your spending life. Chegg even has on-demand, low-cost online tutoring services if you’re looking to avoid the high costs of in-person tutoring.
And when you’re done with your books for the semester, sell them back! Most textbook rental sites and campus book stores have buy-back periods, especially at the end of the semester. Got a friend taking the class you just wrapped up? Sell your books directly to stretch your funds a little further.
2. Make It A Night In
The price of restaurants and nights out adds up, with college students spending an average of $765 dining off campus each year. Grabbing dinner or drinks with friends is a great way to socialize, but it doesn’t have to cost you! Most schools offer (or require) an on campus meal plan — a good deal you shouldn’t let go to waste.
It’s just as easy to make friends by meeting up in the dining hall as an off-campus restaurant. Then you can pick one night a week to treat yourself to a meal out. Nothing like a ritual Friday night out to celebrate a long week of studying hard. By combining a meal plan with planned meals off campus, you can easily create a food budget, and stick to it! Don’t forget about cooking with friends or roommates too. Saving money by splitting the cost of groceries and cooking a feast together will make your meals taste all the better.
3. Get To Work!
When the semester starts, be on the lookout for an on-campus job. From working in the library or dining hall to doing research with a professor, most schools offer a myriad of work opportunities. On campus jobs usually have more flexible schedules, and they’re also a great way to learn how to multi-task as you juggle schoolwork, extracurriculars, and new friends. You might even discover a new interest through a job, and on-campus work is the perfect way to get the experience you need for future employment after school.
4. Save With Scholarships
Many students don’t realize how many scholarships they could be eligible for. And, you don’t necessarily need that 4.0 to get them. Scholarships are available for everything from playing sports, to writing essays, to being part of extracurricular clubs and activities.
Check out websites like Fastweb and U.S. News to find scholarships and advice on how to search and apply. I also recommend meeting with a dean or member of your school’s administration who could point you in the direction of scholarships they help students seek out every year. Even better, scholarships are often renewable, helping you chip away at your overall college costs throughout all four years of school.
5. Track Those Finances
Make a budget, and stick to it. It’s easy to overspend during school without realizing exactly how much is coming out of your own pocket. Start with a list of your basic expenses (housing, food, books, transportation), and use them to set financial limits for yourself.
Beyond larger expenses like books and food, don’t forget to account for the smaller things–those daily coffees, the occasional cab ride, and your new school supplies and college apparel. Then incentivize yourself to save — when you’ve put aside a certain amount of money, celebrate with a fun night out with friends. And if you have a job, hold yourself accountable for how much of your paycheck goes to savings, what you can use for basic spending, and how much is left for a little fun. To make things even easier, try out a free financial app like Personal Capital. You just sync your accounts with the dashboard, and you can see your spending and savings across any financial institutions you use.
Saving money in college takes some planning, time, and focus, but it’s well worth it when good habits can save you from graduating with unsurmountable debt. Enforcing responsible spending habits when you’re young will put you ahead of lots of your peers, so why not try out these tips and then share with a few friends? A more financially savvy college career is just around the corner.