Money Management 101: A College Student’s Guide to Smart Spending

The centuries-old stereotype of the “broke college student” has stood the test of time for a good reason. Saving money in college can feel like an uphill battle, as most full-time students struggle to carve out time for shifts between study sessions. Not to mention, these academics are often paying off steep loans and fighting to make ends meet with a low-paying part-time gig. That said, the high cost of college necessities like a reliable laptop or books, the price of extracurricular activities, and a lack of budgeting experience can be an unfortunate combination for students struggling to save.

Because costs are high, students often find themselves relying on debt-inducing credit cards. With that in mind, college is a pivotal time to get your financial priorities in order. Usually, money-management habits you develop as a student stay with you for the rest of your life, which means learning responsible money habits vital to future success. Employ money-saving tips-and-tricks to avoid post-grad financial pitfalls.

Use your credit card wisely

Misuse of a credit card at an early age can haunt you for many years to come as your debt builds and your credit score drops. However, responsible card ownership can lead to an improved financial situation. Start with a low-limit card to avoid overspending and take a moment to self-reflect on your lifestyle and monetary goals. Are you responsible and disciplined enough to live within your means? If the answer is yes, apply for beginner-friendly cards and work your way up in the world of credit.

Finally, do your research on designated student credit cards, like those from 1st Financial Bank USA. The advantages of utilizing student-friendly cards include credit building, zero or low annual fees, text and mobile app banking, zero liability, and payment flexibility.

Set a budget

It’s easy to blow through money if you’re not tracking expenses. Creating a budget can allow you to see where your money is going and how you can cut back on spending. Start with the basics—any income, your monthly or semester expenses, and savings. From there, create a realistic budget within your means and work diligently to follow as closely as possible.

Take advantage of student discounts

There is an astounding number of places you can find student discounts. From museums to clothing stores to streaming services and even banks, most well-established businesses will offer student discounts. While some services will post discount services, it’s beneficial to ask your favorite stores if they offer students reductions.

Seek out free entertainment

While going to dinner or seeing a movie may not seem like a significant expense at the time, small activities quickly add up. College campuses and the surrounding areas are usually jam-packed with free events and activities. By taking advantage of free or discounted opportunities, you may discover a newfound love for local entertainment in your area.

Create an emergency fund

Life is unpredictable, which is why it’s essential to budget-in unforeseen circumstances.  No matter how prepared you are, you’ll likely find yourself with an unexpected expense during your college career. Setting money aside for an emergency can prevent unwanted credit card build-up or occurred debt.

Don’t worry about “keeping up”

Throughout your life, you’ll have friends who can seemingly afford to go out, purchase big-ticket items, and spend freely. The truth is, you don’t know anyone else’s actual financial situation and may be spending irresponsibly, have built up savings, or have all expenses covered by their parents. Avoid futile comparisons and strive to save and spend responsibility—regardless of peer pressure. Everyone is unique, and you need to budget and spend in ways that work for you.

The bottom line

Building a stable financial situation while attending college can be difficult without the proper resources. Start saving early, use credit cards wisely, and spend responsibly to avoid typical monetary mishaps.