It’s interesting that financial planner is a job title, because everyone should know how to be one. College students are no exception. In fact, as tuition costs rise and the cost of living increases, college students need to be financial savvy now more than ever. Here are 10 tips to get you started.
1. Create a tight budget and stick to it. Debit cards let people spend money more freely without thinking about where it comes from, where it’s going, or how much they’re spending. Establishing a budget helps you know how much money you’re spending in a month and where the money is being spent. Smartphone apps or software programs can help you get started.
2. Meet with an academic advisor when selecting courses. Yes, it could save you money. Advisors know about course requirements, course sequences and course availabilities. It’s their job. If you self-schedule, you might register– and pay- for courses you don’t need. That’s money down the drain.
3. Don’t wait until the last minute to register for courses. Know when the next semester’s registration begins and plan accordingly. If you wait until the last minute, you run the risk of a course being filled that you may have to take during an additional semester. That’s additional money that you wouldn’t have had to spend if you had registered early.
4. Focus your academic and career goals sooner rather than later. The sooner you select your academic program and solidify your career goals, the sooner you’re on track to graduation and employment. Having a plan helps you avoid taking unnecessary courses.
5. Search for scholarships. In addition to merit- based/academic and need-based/financial scholarships, you can obtain scholarships based on criteria such as geographic location, gender, culture, ethnicity and other factors. Resources like CFNC, Scholarships.com and Federal Student Aid are just three of many online resources. Be sure to check with local churches and community organizations.
6. Avoid spending “a few bucks” each week. If you eat lunch out two times each week, you could spend an average of $320 per semester. Pack a lunch instead.
7. Put money-sucking hobbies on hold. Coffee shops. Shoe shopping. Going to the movies. Everyone has interests that cost money (some more than others). While in school, reduce or eliminate leisure activities that cost money. Instead of weekly outings to the movies, make it a special once-a-month event.
8. Use credit cards sparingly. Credit cards can actually help your finances- when used sparingly and correctly. Using credit cards wisely (paying them off in full, staying within your credit limit) actually helps improve your credit score. A credit score is used to determine many financial transactions, such as purchasing a car or house. Using credit cards incorrectly (not making payments, carrying too much debt, opening multiple credit cards) hurts your credit score and your financial future. Use credit cards for emergencies only.
9/ Start a savings account. You don’t need to deposit huge amounts at one time. Five or ten dollars per week is a great start. The key is not touching it. Open an account that doesn’t have a debit card attached to it. If you have to make a trip to the bank to withdraw money, you’re less likely to do it.
Financial planning is a learned skill. Too many college students think the learning takes place after earning the degree. Not true. To pave your way to financial stability, the learning should start now.