School supplies are hitting the shelves, and that means a new school year is just about one month away. College students head back to start their fall classes in August, so it’s time to focus on money management in college. Parents, if you are sending your children off to college, make sure they have the financial skills to get started on their own. College students, you need to read this! How many of these mistakes have you already made?
- The first way to break your budget is by not having a budget at all! So, take the time to make yourself a monthly budget. Consider the income you will get from financial aid, employment, and family. Estimate your monthly expenses for rent, food, and other bills. Make sure you have enough income to pay for all of these expenses. Don’t forget to leave a little padding in your monthly budget for the unexpected trip or opportunity. Try one of these budgeting apps to help.
- Grabbing a quick bite to eat or jolt of caffeine in between classes adds up over time. Grabbing a drink and snack at Starbucks can easily cost $10. Get in that habit three times a week, and you’ve spent $30. At the end of the month, you’ve spent $120. Pack some healthy snacks from home in your bag. Carry a refillable water bottle and try bringing coffee from home in a travel cup when possible.
- Consider the cost per meal of a meal plan. If you live on campus, you are stuck with the meal plan. You should have a choice, however, about how that meal plan is structured. Typically, you can choose a combination of meals and points or dining dollars. Look at the cost per meal of the plan and how many times you really eat in the dining hall. If you don’t use all of those meals each week, you’ll probably be better off with the dining dollars or points. If you do this, however, make sure to budget and keep track of this money so you are not left starving with a month left in the semester.
- Even social events need a budget. One of the great parts of the college experience is going out and having fun with new people. Going out, however, is expensive. Buying a new pair of shoes or jeans to go out adds to that expense. Unless your parents are giving you their credit card and an unlimited budget, you need to think about the cost of going out. Limit the number of days you go out (also a great plan since you need to study!), find things to do that don’t require spending money (Netflix and chill slumber party), and try shopping in a friend’s closet.
- While on the subject of social activities, be careful not to get involved with too many campus activities. There are so many new activities and groups to explore on campus, but they usually involve paying a fee for membership dues or group activities. Over the course of a year, these activity fees and expenses can add up to several hundred extra dollars that were not in your budget. All of these activities can really take away from your study time too. Limit yourself to one or two groups for at least the first year of college.
- Think about whether you really need to bring your car with you. Parking spots on campus can be very expensive, and many universities make you park your car a mile away from campus anyway. So, having a car can be both expensive and inconvenient. If your campus is part of a town or urban area, a car might not be necessary. Explore and consider the other transportation options before you decide to pack up your car. I went to college in Newark, Delaware and did not have my car with me until my final semester. The campus and town were very walkable, and trains and buses were available when we needed to get out of town. Plus, Uber is available in more locations all the time and makes it much easier to get around without your own car as needed.