By Erin Fay
If money grew on trees, you can bet that college students would constantly be harvesting those crisp green bills. The truth is, being a college student can be incredibly pricey. Aside from tuition, books, room and board, and meal plans, there are extras like the occasional six pack of Red Bull for those late-night study sessions and suspiciously expensive calculators that your math professor insists you buy.
With all these expenses, it’s no wonder so many students are broke. Couple these costs with the massive debt many students are bombarded with upon graduation, and it equals one bleak financial future. However, if you start saving money now, you can be better prepared for that post-graduation attack. All it takes is a few simple changes in your spending habits, and you can be left with a nice stash of cash for your future.
No. 1 Get organized
Organization is the first step in gaining control of your finances. Get in the habit of saving all your receipts in a file or shoebox. At the end of the month, sort your receipts according to categories such as food, clothing, entertainment, gas.
Calculate how much you are spending in each category and write it down or type it up. You may be surprised to see on paper where all your money is going. Hold onto this for your records.
By simply taking a quick look at this paper, you can see areas where you can improve. For example, if you are spending $500 a month buying clothes, but only $50 a month paying off your student loans, then you clearly have some adjusting to do. Be sure to look for extras to cut back on, like those sneaky iced lattes that you shell out $30 a week for. Seeing what you spend on paper will really give you a good handle on your spending habits. If you make the necessary adjustments each month, you will see more money in your account. Try to repeat this process each month, so you can track your improvements.
No. 2 Save
Whenever you get a check, try to put as much money as possible into your savings. For example, if you are able to survive on half your paycheck, put half of it into a savings account. Opt for a high-yield savings account that allows you to withdraw money without penalty, just in case you are hit with an unexpected bill or other emergency.
By choosing a high-yield savings account, you can earn better interest than a typical savings account. This high interest rate will also serve as motivation to save, for the higher your balance, the more interest you gain. There are several banks that cater to students and offer some excellent benefits.
The most important thing to remember when you open a savings account is not to touch the money unless absolutely necessary. If you are the type of person who tends to sneak money out of your savings to spend on extras, choose an online bank. Because you have to wait a few days to withdraw that money, it gives you time to consider whether you truly need the cash and thus cuts back on temptation.
No. 3 Take advantage of your status as a student
Always be on the lookout for discounts. Many places offer discounts to college students, and although some of the discounts may seem insignificant, they can really add up. Another option is to enroll in the UPromise program, which gives students cash back on purchases at a large selection of retailers and restaurants. This program is especially helpful for those who enjoy online shopping. Some examples of their cash-back percentages are: 5 percent back from American Eagle, 2 percent back from Target.com, 8 percent at Famous Footwear, and 2 percent at Best Buy.
UPromise also gives you the option to register your cards for additional discounts and rewards. You can even ask your relatives to register their cards so that you can reap the rewards from their purchases.
No. 4 Don’t buy your textbooks at the bookstore
Many students make the bad decision to buy books from the bookstore at the start of their freshman year. About $500 later, they realize their mistake. People are now fighting to make cheap textbooks available to students, so there are several less expensive options than the campus bookstore.
One option is Chegg, a website that allows you to rent books by the semester. This is especially useful if you know that you are not going to ever use a particular book beyond that class. By using this site you can save hundreds of dollars.
Websites like Amazon are also great options. Amazon offers several benefits to students from free shopping to free mp3 downloads, not to mention some of the lowest prices for textbooks.
No. 5 Use credit cards responsibly
Misusing credit cards may be the No. 1 mistake college students make. Many students receive credit cards and begin charging everything in sight. That is not a good choice.
If you are a student, you should be using a credit card for one thing and one thing only: building a solid credit history. This means making regular purchases, but paying them off as soon as possible. You can make small purchases or large purchases, but do not charge anything that you do not have the money for. Before you charge anything, ask yourself if you have the money to pay it off at that moment. If you don’t have the cash, don’t charge it!
Putting these five tips into action can make a difference in your life. There is no better feeling than knowing you are in control of your finances. As students, we can take comfort in the fact that we’ll have a nice stockpile for when that monster named Student Loan Repayment comes knocking on our door. All it takes is a little common sense and a little of your time. Your wallet will thank you.