It's no secret that attending college isn't cheap. Between the student loans, textbooks, supplies and all of life's other essentials, college life typically comes at a considerable cost. Fortunately, with some careful planning and shrewd money management, keeping your finances in order may not be as difficult as you think. To make sure your budget stays in the black without sacrificing the college experience ––– or having to write home for money every few weeks ––– check out the seven essential tips below.
Cook up Some Savings
For many college students, most meals consist of eating out or calling for a delivery. Going out to eat occasionally is great, but this approach to food is a costly one. To keep your budget in check, consider cooking your own meals instead. It's far less expensive to buy ingredients and cook your own food, and you'll be able to eat healthier as well. If time is an issue, consider cooking in bulk. Dedicate one free day each week to cook up meals for the entire week, then simply put them in containers and pop them in your freezer until you need them.
Take Advantage of Student Discounts
A student ID card is a ticket to serious savings, but many students fail to take advantage. Your ID could net you discounts on everything from restaurants and stores to movie theaters and concerts, so be sure to check around for savings opportunities. Many colleges also host events that are free to enter for anyone sporting a student ID, providing a great opportunity to have a night out without spending a dime.
Go Bargain Hunting for Books
Few things can wreck your budget like needing to purchase a stack of textbooks for a new semester. Many students head to their campus bookstore to get what they need, but that's a recipe for overpaying. Instead, a little bargain hunting can save you serious cash. Used textbooks are often available for much lower prices online, or you may wish to simply rent the books you need. Many recent textbooks are also available digitally, which offers added convenience as well as greater savings. Check with your friends, too. You never know when someone may already have just the book you need!
Formulate a Debt Repayment Strategy
Student debt is an unfortunate reality of attending college, but it doesn't need to be such a burden. As soon as you've secured the loans you need, sit down and draw up a plan for how you'll pay them off. Figure out the maximum amount you can afford to pay each month and stick with it, but don't be afraid to pay extra when you can. The more quickly you can begin to pay down your debt, the less it will cost you in the long run. Work out a realistic date by which you intend to pay off your debt and do everything within your power to reach that goal.
Use a Credit Card – Carefully
A credit card is a wonderful aid in keeping your finances in check, but it can quickly become a disaster if you don't manage it responsibly. There's nothing wrong with using your card to cover a few important expenses until your next paycheck arrives, but be careful about taking on a greater balance than you can afford to pay off. You can also use a credit card to begin establishing a credit history and raising your credit score. If you use your card for routine expenses and pay off the balance in full each month, you'll be well on your way to a strong credit score.
Ditch Your Car
Driving your own car may give you more freedom, but it certainly isn't the cheapest way to get around. Most colleges offer free shuttle service to students who live away from campus, and a student ID will often grant you discounts when it comes to other forms of public transportation. If you live close enough to your school, you may even consider walking or biking. It's free, and it'll also help you stay in shape and avoid the dreaded "freshman 15"! If circumstances make driving a necessity, explore your carpooling options for a more affordable alternative.
Equip Yourself With Budgeting Tools
Call it common sense, but staying within your budget first requires, well, a budget. Don't break out the spreadsheets and calculators just yet, though. Many smartphone apps now make it easier than ever to create, track and update your budget on the go. Many apps can connect directly to your bank account and are capable of automatically syncing across devices, sending alerts related to your budget and expenses and even lending a hand when tax time comes around. Invest a few bucks in the budgeting app that suits you best and you'll have all the tools you need to keep your money right.
They say that college is as much about learning life skills as it is about getting an education. That's certainly true, and one of the most valuable life skills you can learn is the ability to manage money effectively. Take the time to create a budget and follow the money-saving tips above and you'll be better prepared to keep your financial house in order - both through your college years and well beyond.
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