by Kathy Kirchoff
Once you’re in college, you’ll be on your own and responsible for your own bills and expenses. Money management is one of the most important things you need to learn. That means understanding the difference between what you need and what you want. Setting limits on your spending will start you out on the path to good spending habits.
Decrease the Cost of College
First and foremost, make sure you apply for financial aid even if you don’t think you’ll receive any. Carefully review and compare the financial aid package offered by each school to which you applied. Depending on your financial situation and educational goals, you might even use this to help you decide which school to attend. Below are a few more things you can do to lower your college bill:
- Attend a college with lower tuition.
- Attend a two-year community college to complete general requirements before transferring to a four-year college.
- Research and apply for scholarships.
- Live with your parents instead of living on campus, or share housing expenses with a roommate.
Set a Budget
You can’t afford a lot of special items right now. Review your monthly income and expenses by creating a budget. Your budget will show you where you can reduce or eliminate spending. It is very important to stick to your budget. Learning to live within your means during your college years will help you stay out of financial trouble throughout your life.
- Cover your basics first. This includes your housing expenses, utilities, tuition bill, school supplies, food, necessary clothing, car payment, insurance, and other bills you must pay. See if you can do without a car. Cars can be very expensive when you add up gas, insurance, registration, maintenance, parking fees, and any unplanned repairs. Try to live within walking or biking distance of campus and work. Also consider the bus and campus shuttles for transportation. They often offer discount passes for students.
- Carry health insurance. You may think you don't need insurance, but not having any is a big risk. A small accident or an illness can result in huge medical bills. Your best option, if possible, is to stay on a parent’s medical plan. This is allowed until age 26. You can also go to the on-campus clinic for care. Some inexpensive medical coverage is offered to students. These typically have a high deductible, but a lower premium costs. Consider low cost clinics where you pay according to your income level, state assistance insurance, and other health coverage options.
- Cut back. If your expenses are still more than you earn, then be creative in ways to reduce your spending. Get a roommate to share expenses, or do more things yourself rather than paying others to do them. Cut back on dining out, unneeded entertainment, premium groceries, cell phone usage, cable, Internet, expensive hobbies, and luxury items.
- Save some money every month. Saving is a good habit to get into early. It’s also important to have emergency funds to fall back on when the unexpected happens. Saving can limit your loan and charge card expenses too.
- Use loans wisely. Don’t take out more in loans than you need. Unless you qualify for a loan forgiveness program, these loans need to be paid back and most payments kick in six months after you graduate from school. Over extending yourself with loans will be a tough, expensive lesson that can take years to pay off. Your credit rating and your ability to take out future loans will be affected if you are delinquent on payments.
- Do not be tempted by credit card offers. Many students run into trouble with charge cards because they don’t understand how they work. It is easy to over extend yourself and end up with payments you can’t afford. Don’t run up charges on one card and then transfer the balances to another. You can be hit with very high interest rates. Use credit cards only for emergencies and absolute necessities, not for entertainment, vacations, or the latest trendy gadget or clothing. Try not to graduate with a mountain of debt.
- Increase your income. Work a part-time job to help meet expenses and reduce your reliance on loans and credit cards. Many job opportunities are offered on campus. Another option is to work full time and go to school part time.
Remember, most people look back at college as the time when they were the poorest, but also had the most fun. Look for ways to share entertainment expenses. Take advantage of low-cost entertainment and discounts for students.
Find more information on managing your money while in college.