Your College Finance Strategy

Cash-Strapped and On Your Own

College traditionally marks the point in life where you begin to be responsible for yourself, including your finances. Some students have parents to fall back on in a financial pinch, but others have no such luxury. Many students suffer a number of growing pains as they try to take those first real steps into adulthood. A big lesson in campus survival is learning how to best manage the cash you have, how to find bargains, and how to earn a small income even while in school.

financing college

Campus Money Saving Strategies

If you're in high school, start a college savings account now, if you don't already have one. Once heading off to college ask family and relatives for cash, cash cards and gas cards in lieu of birthday and holidays presents. Gift cards are also a great way to make you feel like you're less cash poor while in school.

While you're at college, make an effort to continue saving money. Even though money might be tight, you can still save a buck or two here and there. For example, cut down on eating out, opt instead for the college meal plan, pizza with a group of friends, etc.

Eliminate costly coffee drinks like cappuccinos and lattes. Guess what? A daily cappuccino fix from your campus corner coffee joint could run you between $30 and $40 per week! Instead, keep a cheap coffee maker in your dorm room; and at those prices you could probably even afford an inexpensive cappuccino machine.

Go in on a bulk buying card with friends. If you ask around you'll most likely find friends that eat similar foods so why not all go in together when shopping? Buying in bulk can greatly reduce costs but only if the items actually get used before going bad or stale. Flex your purchasing muscle by getting a savings card at your local grocery too.

Start a Savings Plan

No matter where you're attending school most states offer 529 college savings accounts for students, which can offer a wide range of savings perks. If contributing to a Prepaid Tuition Plan or College Savings Plan your earnings should be safe from being taxed on the federal level and often even on the state level, provided funds are used appropriately for school. To learn more look here.

Create a Source of Income

If you can, it might be helpful to try and generate even a small income stream while in college. You can get a part-time job off campus or even one on campus. If your course load is particularly demanding you can still get an outside job but consider getting one that requires more physicality than brain power. That way you're getting some exercise in but also saving your big thoughts for school. Take a look at the different options you can pursue.

  • On campus jobs are often a part of work-study programs, which means any money that you earn will go directly toward your tuition expenses.
  • Off campus jobs are often quite plentiful especially around college campuses. In most cases you can find plenty of flexible part-time jobs, and the money is yours. Try putting a percentage of it back into savings while you keep bit for yourself.
  • A paid internship in your field of study is an option, as well. It may not pay a lot, but it can be helpful for your day-to-day expenses such as food, clothes and school supplies. Plus, you’ll get your hands on practical experience in your chosen field, which is really quite priceless.
  • Don’t overlook the cash you can make when you sell back used textbooks. Compare the better deal: buy back at the campus bookstore, sell online or sell for instant cash directly to a student you know needs them.

Build Credit while on Campus

Students fresh out of high school often have little credit to speak of. While you’re in college you can actually begin building a valuable credit score. Student loans will provide you with ample opportunity. If you have the option to make interest only payments and if they are manageable, you might opt to do it. This way you are only required to make minimal monthly payments, but every time you do so you help boost your credit score. Though a word of caution: Defaulting on your loan is the perfect way to trash your credit and that of your cosigner's, if any.

credit score

A credit card of course may offer you opportunity to create credit, but at a price. Best strategy for a credit card while in college: stick with a lower credit limit. Even if a creditor wants to approve you for a high credit limit ask them to limit it even to a few hundred dollars. Make a couple of small purchases and immediately pay them off. Only use your plastic in an emergency. If you know you are irresponsible with money—avoid credit cards altogether; they won't help you, they will only hurt you.

But if you can remain diligent and frugal your college days are a good time to help build a positive financial future.

How to Keep On Top of Your Debt

Lastly, a great way to be responsible and to get through college in one piece is to take care of your bills.

  • Know when you have bills due every month and mark it on a calendar.
  • Keep a close eye on your bank account when bills come due, make sure you have the money to write the check.
  • Make your payments on time, every time. Late payments result in late fees, which can immediately cause your interest rate to skyrocket.

When it comes to keeping on top of your finances in college, what matters most is being responsible. Paying your bills on time and saving money can help you start your life off right. College is supposed to be one of the best times of your life so instead of stressing over late bills and negatives in your bank account, instead make saving and being frugal a part of your every day life. Find fun ways to save and still enjoy the good times!