Higher education should include budgeting and saving for your future, or you'll pay later.
Higher education should include budgeting and saving for your future, or you'll pay later
1. Budget, budget. When you get to school, one of the first things to do is create and use a budget every month, advises Ethan Ewing, a consumer finance consultant and president of Bills.com. Begin by adding all monthly net income -- allowances from parents, financial aid, paychecks, etc. -- then subtracting monthly expenses. At the beginning of the month, map out how you will spend the available cash, he said.
2. Credit crunch. You'll need a credit card to build a credit rating, but one card is sufficient. Use it only for emergencies or you could quickly send that rating crashing before you build it, says Adam Carroll, author of "Winning the Money Game." He delivers a program with that message to college students. And no, spring break in Cancun, clothes and weekend parties are not emergencies.
3. Go shopping -- for a bank. Plenty of banks will give you a T-shirt for opening an account with them, but they may not offer you the best deal on checking or savings accounts. Find a no-fee bank in your area, and get in the habit of balancing that checking account each month. Use your debit card rather than a credit card so you don't get into needless debt, suggests Randy Loren, a Florida-based financial adviser who focuses on helping high school and college students.
4. Good debt, bad debt. You need to understand the difference, says John W. McTigue, managing partner of The McTigue Financial Group in Chicago, part of Northwestern Mutual. Bad debt is charging $3,000 worth of clothing, eating out too often, or buying a cool car. Such debt takes years to pay and has no pay-off. Good debt uses money to further goals: investing in student loans, medical school, or a suit to wear to interviews.
5. Consider working. If your budget shows more expenses than income, working part-time is an option. Carroll says don't feel pigeon-holed into being a food server, bartender, telemarketer or cafeteria worker. Why not advertise on Craigslist that you’ll tutor young kids in basic math or English? Tutors are making anywhere from $20 to $45 an hour. Mowing lawns pays $15 to $20 per yard, which adds up when you’re doing dozens of them a week.
6. A balancing act. Balancing your checkbook couldn't be easier these days, since you can actually see real time what’s gone through your account with online banking, Carroll says. Balancing your checkbook on a weekly, even daily, basis should be a top priority. Plus there are services online that will track your spending, text you when you’re close to overdrawing your account, and remind you when your credit card bill is due.
7. Don't borrow too much. College students who borrow student loan money to live a fabulous lifestyle while on campus can end up flat broke when they land a job that barely allows them to make minimum payments, Carroll warns. Some students borrow $20,000 to $30,000 more than they really need for school. Ask your parents how much they’re contributing and how much you’ll be expected to, then plan on the amount you’ll need to borrow.
8. Keep searching for financial aid. The aid package you may have received as an incoming freshman doesn't have to be the final word on financial assistance, Loren says. Colleges offer some scholarships based on college-level academic achievement or real-world experience, both of which you may have accumulated since your freshman year. Study your college's scholarships, and be aggressive in going after them every year.
9. Avoid identity theft. Students tend to think of college campuses as safe places, but identity thieves lurk everywhere, and the damage they can cause to your finances could be devastating. Personal financial data left on laptop computers, cell phones and other electronic devices can be easily stolen around campus, even in a dorm room, warns McTigue. Keep all your paper records and your passwords in a safe place.
10. Cheap is Chic. Just about every college student is in the same boat, living on a tight budget. Figure out a way to have fun being cheap, advisers say. Learn to comparison shop, eat out less, have get-togethers in dorm rooms instead of going out. At some point you’re going to have to live like a college student, and it’s way more fun to do that in college than when you’re a professional.