Let’s face it: college is expensive. If you planned carefully before entering your freshman year, chances are you will still have some (hopefully minimal) debt by the time you graduate. That debt, if you play your cards right, should only apply to your tuition and nothing more. The following are some tips on avoiding those extra financial mistakes so many freshmen make.
- Create a budget! If you never had to do this before, this is the perfect time to start. Sit down with those who will be involved in financing your education and really talk this out. Map out what your expenses will be from month to month while at school, all the way down to that pizza spending money for late-night study sessions (soooo much pizza). Nerdwallet.com has a great budget planner on their site that can help get your started. When you, with the help of your loved ones plan how you will spend money, no matter how much or how little you have to work with, you will be less likely to overspend. Especially with that new credit card you signed up for in front of the Student Union on your first day being on campus. Which, by the way, leads to the next financial mistake freshman make…
- Do not live beyond your means – As a freshman in college, even with the best of budgets (and still create that budget!), chances are you will be a poor college student. Sounds cliché, doesn’t it? What you don’t want to do, however, is live beyond your means. While eating out is enticing, it can become quite costly. You will have a meal plan – use it! Need entertainment? Research what the campus has to offer to save you the cost of going off campus and spending that extra money. Sometimes activities on campus are free or a nominal amount. Plus, you develop more of a sense of community when you are involved in the campus and all it has to offer.
- Do not rely on Student Credit Cards – I remember getting my first credit card at 19. It had an $800 limit, and I didn’t even care what the interest rate was (what was an interest rate, anyway?). At first, I told myself that I would only use it in emergencies, and of course I would pay the money back when the bill came due. But then, we really wanted that late-night pizza (see what I mean about pizza), and I was working at the Student Union for minimum wage with my Work Study job and wasn’t going to get paid for another week, so I will just use that handy credit card! I will pay it back. Then, it started feeling like free money, and I started using it more and more for unnecessary things (i.e., living beyond my means). By the time Holiday Break came, I maxed out that card. I was only making about $200 a month doing Work Study and needed some of that money to live. Most of the time I could only pay the minimum at 22% interest; it ended up taking a little over a year to pay that off (which I was lucky enough to do, but others are not so lucky). This tale is not unique to me. So many college freshmen fall into that trap of getting that first credit card and using it like it is free money, thus having to learn an expensive lesson on spending. I am not saying to not get a credit card; just be sure that if you do, be informed about what you are getting, and use it responsibly. Be sure what you spend can be paid off in full by the time the bill comes due.
- Research and apply for scholarships each year – I wish I were more financially savvy as a freshman. I thought scholarships were given during the application process and that they carried over each year. Not so! If you are fortunate enough to receive a scholarship that automatically renews each year, that is amazing and kudos to you. There are so many scholarships opportunities that are not given at schools simply because students do not do the research and apply to them. Do a little research and find that money! You may be surprised how easy it can be!