Financial Tips for College Students: 3 Healthy Habits to Start as a Freshman
If you’re like a lot of students, your freshman year of college brings a lot of firsts. It might be the first time you’ve lived apart from your family, controlled your own schedule, and perhaps even done your own laundry.
More importantly, it may also be the first time you’ve been responsible for your own finances. If so, you’ll want to establish smart money-management habits to grow financially through your college years.
These three financial tips for college students can help you avoid common traps and pitfalls and achieve financial wellness.
1. Calculate Your Expenses
You may have financial aid, savings, or family support that’s covering some or all of your tuition and housing costs. You may also face many other expenses in your first year of college, such as:
- Books and supplies
- Food that’s not included in your meal plan
- Dorm or room essentials, such as bedding, towels, cleaning supplies, and decor
- Gas, car maintenance, or car insurance
- Travel expenses for your trips home from school
- A phone plan
- Health insurance and medical expenses
- Entertainment and socializing costs
Estimate how much these costs will be so you can create a plan to pay for them. If you step in blind, you—and your finances—can easily trip and fall. You can also research ways to lower these costs. For example, renting textbooks may be cheaper than buying them. Designing your schedule to eat most of your meals on campus can help save money, too. Taking advantage of free or low-cost on-campus activities and student discounts at local businesses is another way to reduce your expenses.
2. Track Your Spending
Anyone tracking all their expenses only in their head is setting themselves up for a financial disaster. It’s crucial to keep a clear and up-to-date record of what you’re spending money on and when. When you watch every dollar, you’ll spot those little expenses that seem like they cost almost nothing in the moment—like the $4.99 to rent a movie on a streaming service—but can add up quickly over the school year to hundreds of dollars. Otherwise, you might not notice at all.
Tracking your spending also shows how much you need to budget for unpredictable expenses like a mini-golf outing for your roommate’s birthday, the renewal fee for your car's registration, or your copay for a doctor’s appointment. It can also give you a better sense of timing, allowing you to spread payments over a longer period and better absorb the costs.
You can use apps to track your spending. Many link directly to your bank accounts and can categorize your expenses to help you see where your money is going. Two of the most popular are Mint, which is free, and YNAB (You Need a Budget), which is free for a year to college students. Or, go old-school with a simple printable worksheet you can fill out by hand.
3. Learn about Lending Practices
Once you turn 18 and become an adult legally able to manage your finances without parent or guardian supervision, some lenders will take advantage of your inexperience by offering credit cards or loans with high costs and other dubious terms. New college students are especially susceptible if these lenders dangle quick and easy access to money.
But a card that’s directly promoted to you may not be the best choice; in fact, it may be the worst. It’s smarter to consider whether you genuinely need a credit card, especially if you obtain a robust financial aid package that includes grants or scholarships, which you don’t have to pay back.
If you decide to apply for a card or loan, research the available cards and loans with someone knowledgeable. With their guidance, compare the spending limits, interest rates, penalties, fees, repayment options, and other conditions to find the best fit for you. Also, keep in mind that the best loan you can take is the smallest.
Want more financial tips for college students to help you forge a solid financial future? Read up on essential skills for managing your finances in college and understanding and managing your education costs.
Posted: October 28, 2022