Your first year in college, you will learn a lot, both academically and personally. You should also be learning quite a bit financially. How you conduct your finances for the next four years while you are in college can determine in part what type of lifestyle you will have when you graduate. If you are mired in credit card and student loan debt, you may have no choice but to move back in with your parents.
To successfully manage your finances, take advantage of these 10 tips:
- Keep a budget. One of the worst things you can do financially is just to spend money with no plan. Make a monthly budget for yourself and follow it.
- Keep track of how much you spend each month. The only way you know you are sticking to your budget is to monitor how much you spend. Your first month on campus, write down EVERYTHING you spend. If you buy a pack of gum at the convenience store, write it down. If you grab a pop when you get gas, write it down. Often, the little expenses add up quickly and sabotage your budget.
- Compare costs. Which is cheaper? Living in the dorm and paying for meal service or living in an apartment with a roommate or two and making your own food? Only you can answer that, but keep in mind the dorm is not always cheaper.
- Find cheaper alternatives. Yes, pizza every night is simple and doesn’t take time, but you could just as easily make yourself a sandwich. Best of all, you can buy the ingredients for a week of sandwiches for about the same price as the pizza you order. You still can order take out, just don’t order it every night.
- Keep your living expenses low. The lower you can keep your living expenses, the less debt you will incur in college and the less likely you will need to take out large student loans. You may not feel like you are having as much fun as some of your classmates who are buying designer clothes and living in luxury apartments, but you will be glad to have less debt when you graduate.
- Take out student loans sparingly. College is expensive, but try to take out the lowest amount of student loans that you need. This step goes hand-in-hand with lowering your expenses.
- Get a part-time job. You probably already feel pressed for time, but working for 10 or 15 hours a week can actually make you more productive. Instead of procrastinating and not doing your home work, you will know that you have to do it because later you will be at work and unable to do it.
- Live on cash. I know, it sounds old fashioned, but experts always say when you pay with cash you feel the pain of money leaving your hand, and it is true. Statistically, you are likely to spend less if you pay cash.
- Use your credit card for emergencies. When you get your first credit card, try to use it for emergencies only. Your money may already be tight; using a charge card regularly can land you in debt as soon as you can’t pay it off one month.
- Pick a major that is in demand. You may love poetry, but if you choose to be an English major and only plan to get a bachelor’s degree, you may be hard pressed to find a good job that pays well. Instead, try to blend your interests with a major that also pays well. If you love writing and are also good with math and science, maybe you could major in engineering and become a technical writer. If you like computers, you can get an IT security degree, that field is always in demand as well.
The financial decisions that you make the four years in college can affect you financially for several years to come. If you can choose a major that has jobs available when you graduate and that pays well and if you can keep your expenses reasonable during college as well as limit your debt load, you will be on the right financial path for your future.
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