Going off to college is one of the most exciting (and stressful) times of your life. I remember unpacking everything into my tiny little dorm room. I didn’t mind the size because I was about to embark on an amazing journey as a college student. Meeting new people is what I live for and I was ready for anything and everything. Moving from a small town to a big city, I didn’t have a care in the world. Coming from living a life of rules and curfews, freedom was my future. But, it’s all fun and games until adulting becomes a reality.
I’m sharing 5 money tips that I wish I adopted when I was in college.
Don’t take on more student loan debt than you need.
It’s easy to say “I’ll pay it back after I graduate.” The average student loan debt that graduates have to pay off is $39,351. That’s enough money to put a down payment on a home, purchase a new car, or pay for a wedding.
Wondering what the payments are on that kind of student loan debt? EducationData.org estimated that the average monthly payment was $460 in 2022.
A student loan funded spring break trip is not a good idea. Take out what you need, use the money appropriately and you’ll be much happier come graduation time.
Start building your credit.
It’s a great idea to open up a credit card and start establishing your credit history. Be mindful and do your research when you are ready to dip your toes into the credit card world. Many credit cards offer attractive rewards programs or cash back on purchases to lure you in, but make sure you read the fine print. You at least want a card that has a low-interest rate and no annual fee.
Don’t be surprised when you see credit card companies on campus trying to persuade you to open a card in exchange for a free movie pass. Avoid falling for the freebies and do your own research to determine what card is right for you.
As long as you don’t miss your payments and pay the balance in full every month, you’ll be on your way to a healthy credit score. You’ll need it when it’s time to rent an apartment or take out a loan.
Make sure you have a stash of cash for emergencies.
You don’t need a shoebox full of cash in your closet, but you should have a savings account that has enough money to help you when emergencies present themselves. You’re at college, so your budget is tight, but putting any amount away is better than nothing when you are building up your emergency fund.
Start by adding anywhere between $5 and $10 a week into the account and you will see it grow. It’s up to you to decide what constitutes as an emergency, but typically car repairs, medical or dental bills, and vet costs are examples of unexpected expenses.
» Calculate: Life insurance needs calculator
See what you’d pay for life insurance
Do your best to avoid extra fees.
It seems as though fees are tacked on to everything. Many fees are completely avoidable when you are aware that they exist. If you make a late payment on your credit card you could rack up a $35 fee. Get an overdraft? You are looking at a $30-40 fee.
If you need to use an ATM, use one that is operated by your bank to avoid the extra charges. Parking meters can cost you too if you let the time expire. Point is, be aware of fees and do what you can to avoid them.
Buy only what you can afford.
It’s easy to overspend. You’re making a lot of new friends and the peer pressure is real. Of course you want to go out to eat most nights of the week, take an Uber from here to there and be a part of the weekend social activities. You can do these things, but just not excessively.
If you’re going to go out to eat, take advantage of any student discounts or grab a happy hour. Remember it’s okay to say no. Trust me, later in life you’ll love using that word. Don’t try and keep up with your friends. Sure, some of them might have a large bank account to which they can live it up every day, but most of your new pals will be just like you and have to get creative when it comes to finances. Get your budget up and running, practice frugality and you’ll come out a winner in the long run.
» Learn more: How to Fit Your Life Insurance Premium into Your Budget
Most importantly, enjoy your college years. Embrace the opportunities that are presented to you and don’t be afraid to try new things. You are there for the education, but you will also learn a lot about yourself and life. Cheers to you! It’s your time to shine.