College can be expensive — that is no secret. Between 1980 and 2020, the average price of an undergraduate degree has risen by 169%. This is why it is so important to develop healthy money habits as a college student, to avoid going into irreconcilable debt. The average federal student loan debt is $37,014, which doesn’t account for credit card debt or private loans. Figures like this can take years to pay off unless you can start saving wisely during your degree. Money literacy is a crucial skill for all adults to learn and can be a lot more achievable than you think, regardless of your budget or earnings.
Get a Part-time Job
Working while earning your degree can help you cover some of your daily expenses, such as food and transportation. This way, you don’t have to rely on credit cards for daily purchases, which helps keep your overall debt ratio lower. Additionally, working while earning your degree can help you build good work habits and responsibility, as it requires a high level of time management.
Around 43% of full-time college students are employed. This can be an advantage because businesses, particularly in college towns, may be more amenable to working with your school schedule as a college student. Finding the right kind of job while you’re in college is important not only for scheduling and budgeting, but for your mental health.
On-campus jobs are convenient, especially if you’re already spending a lot of your time on campus. This can help cut on commuting costs. Additionally, on-campus jobs are also more likely to be part-time or seasonal. Many universities have a job board of available campus jobs, and you can also talk with the career center about any on-campus opportunities.
It’s important to note that many on-campus jobs are funded by a Federal Work-Study scholarship. This isn’t like a traditional scholarship where you’re paid a lump sum upfront. Instead, Federal Work-Study acts sort of like a savings fund. When you’re hired by a campus institution, they will pay you from your work-study funds. This scholarship is a great way to help get an on-campus job, however, it’s important to note that you can only work the number of hours that your work-study can cover for a semester. You also won’t receive work-study funds if you don’t work. Your financial aid office can help you understand more about these requirements and payouts.
According to Zippia, 60% of internships are paid positions. Internships can be a great opportunity for students for several reasons, such as:
- Gaining experience in your field;
- Networking with professionals;
- Acquiring class credits for internship hours;
- Setting up job opportunities post-graduation.
You can work either on-campus or off-campus, depending on the type of internship. If you’re wanting class credit for an internship, you’ll need to talk with your university's internship coordinator to see what you’ll have to do to earn it. There are, of course, unpaid internships, but these should be chosen very carefully, especially if you’re on a tight budget.
Freelancing can be a great way to make money on your own schedule. Becoming a freelancer can also give you practical experience in your field, which can be a great boon. You can become a freelancer either by creating your own business, such as an Etsy shop where you sell items, or by using popular freelancer platforms, like Fiverr.
When becoming a freelancer, it’s important you understand what taxes you’re on the hook for, or what percentage of your earnings will be collected by the platform you’re using, to have a clearer idea of your actual earnings.
Create a Budget and Stick To It
Creating a budget is an easy way to get an idea of your spending and understand your habits. There are several ways that you can create a budget, either manually or online, using free budgeting apps and templates, as well as premium services. The easiest and simplest budgets will help track:
- Recurring Fixed Expenses: These are expenses that cannot be cut down on or skipped, such as rent, groceries, utilities, loan or debt payments.
- Recurring Variable Expenses: These are generally expenses that can be cut down or stopped completely, such as gas, subscriptions, non-grocery food spending and entertainment costs.
- Non-recurring Expenses: These are one-time expenses or investments, such as appliances and homeware, textbooks, security deposits or application fees, car repairs, and other general emergencies or expenses.
Categorize each of your purchases at the end of the month into these categories. From here, you can see where you may be able to cut costs.
Live Off-Campus or With Roommates To Save on Rent
Living off campus can be more affordable in some cases than living on campus. Roommates can help split up the cost of rent and utilities, and not having to borrow extra for costly room and board can also help keep your student loans down.
Living off campus can also help you learn to live independently and manage your finances. For many, college is the first time you have to pay attention to monthly bills and spending habits. It’s important to note that not everyone will be able to live off campus, but the following tips can help make things more affordable:
- Ask friends or family if they know of any openings;
- Check out college bulletin boards;
- Search online listings;
- Use roommate finder apps.
Living with the wrong person can severely decrease your quality of life, so it’s important to have clear priorities when looking for a roommate. This may include compatible lifestyles, proven fiscal trustworthiness, personal hygiene, and so on.
Cut Out Unnecessary Expenses
You may not realize how much unnecessary spending you do until you look at your monthly purchase history. It should be noted that not all variable expenses fall into the “unnecessary” category, however, there are ways that you can reduce variable spending, especially if you keep coming up short every month:
- Eat out less often;
- Cancel subscriptions or memberships you no longer use;
- See if you can refinance your auto loan to get a lower car payment;
- Look into financing options for large one-time bills, like vet bills or car maintenance;
- Downgrade your phone plan;
- Make coffee at home.
These are just a few options to help you save money. Even saving a dollar here and there add up over time. When looking at your variable spending, use your best judgment to see what can be slimmed down for the next month.
Take Advantage of Student Discounts
Many businesses offer student discounts, especially in college towns, so take advantage of them. This could include discounts on:
- Beauty products;
- Movie tickets;
- Software and technology;
- Home decor;
There are several online directories for companies with student discounts, and you can always ask if a company offers a discount for students. These discounts can help relieve spending costs, especially on big-ticket items like tech, travel, and home decor.
Find Alternative Transportation
Public transportation can be a great way to save money on gas and car maintenance. Public transport is also more environmentally friendly, as an added perk. Unlimited bus and subway passes can cost as little as $33 a week — factoring in at least two rides a day, that can come out to as little as 0.42 cents per ride. If public transportation is not available, consider alternatives such as:
- Using electric scooters;
- Starting a carpool group.
These options can save you money on transportation, as well as help keep you active. You might also consider renting out your car when it’s not in use. This can help you earn a little money, but be sure to read all the necessary liability and insurance requirements.
Sell Unwanted Items
You can make a decent amount of extra money by selling your unwanted items. This could include clothes, furniture, electronics, and so on. Some university book stores offer buy-back programs for store credit, which you can use to purchase next semester's textbooks. Other places you can sell your no longer needed items include:
- Facebook marketplace;
Before selling on any online platforms, be sure to review seller agreements, as some platforms take a percentage of sales or charge for sellers to ship out products.
Get Credit Cards With Rewards Programs
There are many credit cards with rewards programs that can help you save money and establish credit history. This could include cash back, points, or miles. Getting a credit card can be a slippery slope, and it may not be right for every college student. If you find yourself unable to control impulsive spending, or unable to pay your full balance every month, you may think of switching to a secured credit card.
These tips can help reduce the amount of debt that you leave college with. Once you’ve graduated, there can be additional options to consider for your remaining student debts, including student loan refinancing, deferment or forbearance. Financial insecurity can be a huge emotional burden, and if changing your spending habits can help you avoid it, then it’s well worth it.
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