Pick a dorm. Sign up for classes. Buy a laptop. As a recent college graduate, I can remember going through my checklist of everything I needed prior to my college move (on top of all the pieces of advice my parents were attempting to engrain in me).
Overall, my college transition was relatively smooth, but it could have been even easier if I’d paid attention to my personal finances earlier in my college career. Here’s the advice I wish I’d gotten early on, in hopes that it will help alleviate some financial stress that you’re experiencing as a new student.
1. Talk to everyone.
Although the primary focus of going to college is to enhance your academic knowledge and earn your degree, networking should also be a top priority. The time you spend outside the classroom building relationships, hearing other people’s life experiences and listening to the wisdom they have to share is ultimately going to shape your future and personal development. Personally, I consider the time I spent connecting with my peers, professors, and professionals some of my most beneficial learning.
So instead of ringing up a pricey bar tab or purchasing that new leather purse, consider asking your hall mate to grab coffee and converse at the student center, or check out the next restaurant night for a student organization that appeals to you. You never know who you might run into at that event, or who your hall mate has connections with back at home. A simple investment in yourself could result in a major payoff in more ways than one down the road, even if it requires you to step out of your comfort zone initially.
2. Prioritize your “needs,” not your “wants.”
This is an area of personal finance that many adults still struggle with. However, the sooner you understand how to mentally separate needs from wants, the better off you will be. The best way to prioritize is by establishing a monthly budget. Apps such as Mint and Pocket Budget are great resources to help you track expenses.
The more you track your saving and spending, the more motivated you’ll be to find small ways to adjust your habits. For instance, rather than buying a full-price textbook, talk with upperclassmen to see 1) how much they even used the book and 2) if they have a copy they’d sell you at a discount. You may also be able to rent the book or search online for the text.
As a cash-strapped college student, making ends meet—let alone saving—can be a challenge. To get a head start on saving, try to get in the habit of contributing your spare change into a savings account. By starting at an early age, you’ll give your money more time to grow.
3. Leverage your student status.
Many local restaurants, retailers and sport venues offer special promotional events to entice local students to come out. Sign up for the student activity board’s e-mail blast and social media updates, and download apps such as AroundCampus and CampusCoupons to keep yourself in the know. Not only will you save a few bucks, you may also connect with new friends. And remember, it never hurts to ask. From your car insurance and cell phone plan to your favorite magazine subscription, you might be surprised at the discounts being a student can get you.
As many people will tell you, your college years will be some of the best of your life. So remember to embrace this experience, make new friendships, soak up as much knowledge as you can and ultimately gain a better understanding of yourself as a person.