College is an experience. It reveals a world of freedom, choice, and knowledge. It can also be the birthplace of terrible financial habits that could last nearly a lifetime. Over half of American students graduate with student loan debt, which amounts to more than $28,000 on average per borrower. This amount doesn’t include other consumer debts, such as credit card, auto, and medical.
Naturally, as a college-bound teen, finances might not be at the forefront of your mind as you think about your upcoming experiences. However, your future self will thank you for tuning in a little bit, even if it’s just for the advice below. Keep these tips in your back pocket as you take on college and enter life after classes.
Read the Fine Print
Please, for the love of all that is logical, READ before you sign! Contracts are in place to protect. Know your rights. The fine print outlines party obligations, consequences, and timelines. It can get you out of some pretty tight spots! On the flip side, it can also get you into a world of trouble.
- Carefully look over your contract
- Review with a trusted family member/friend/attorney
- Understand termination clauses
- Master and exercise your benefits
From credit card applications to leases and loan agreements, the fine print provides important information about interest rates, additional fees, and more.
Get your Side Hustles On
Beef up your bank account with multiple streams of income.
Life doesn’t allow for single-tasking, as much as you try to simplify your day-to-day. Side hustles expand your multi-tasking capabilities and your bottom line.
- Don’t rely on a single source of income
- Turn your hobbies into money-making opportunities
- Seek opportunities related to your field of study
- Learn and master a new skill
- Apply for flexible gigs through Upwork
- Bulk up your savings
Side hustles build different skills, networking opportunities, and extra income. Whether you’re paying off your tuition or lookin’ for some beer money, a good side hustle offers another source of income to help cover the cost.
Hopefully, by the time you’ve entered college, you have some understanding of financial independence. If not, it’s best to start as early as you can: do a little research online, take in some light reading, and review the basics of personal finance.
- Talk about money matters with someone you trust
- Open a savings account (if you don’t already have one)
- Create a workable budget, such as the 50/30/20 budget:
50% for needs, 30% for wants, and 20% for savings or debt
- Apply for and properly use a rewards credit card to maximize benefits and build credit
- Open an investment account
Buying new can be expensive! Now, while it’s sometimes worth it to spring for the new, let’s not ignore the valuable savings buying old can bring. Pre-owned textbooks are where it’s at!
The books I purchased in school were used and often a few editions behind the current. I found that although I had earlier editions, the information was nearly the same! I never had difficulty with my pre-owned, previous editions…and ended up saving a ton of money.
- Keep an eye out for free items (textbooks, furniture, clothing, etc.)
- Ask friends and family if they’re planning to let anything go
- Shop thrift and consignment stores
- Dumpster dive near the dorms on move-out day (personal favorite!)
Maximize that Student Discount
Student discounts saved my growling tummy and kept my bank account afloat on more than a few occasions throughout college. From restaurant savings to technology discounts and membership deals, student discounts offer excellent benefits that help you through your college experience.
- Seek out exclusive student discounts local to your city
- Sign up for products with education pricing through Microsoft and Apple, among others
- Check your subscriptions to see if you qualify for a student discount with your school e-mail (Spotify, Amazon Prime, etc.)
- Keep an eye out for student-only travel and tour deals
- When in doubt, ask if a student discount is available
Learn the Art of Balance
College is like any other experience with crossroads and consequences. Oftentimes, many first-time students are faced with a different sense of freedom than what they’ve previously encountered. This is especially true if they are attending college away from home. To counter the potential overindulgence in freedom and poor choices, one must exercise balance.
- Consequences shape your boundaries and help you understand balance
- Balance creates clarity, which leads to healthier decision-making
- Master the balance between work and class, socializing and sleep, spending and saving, and more
Learning the art of balance will save you exhaustive effort, time, and money. It will teach you how to prioritize and reframe your focus.
Be Curious & Ask Questions
Work towards shedding narrow-sightedness and commit to an open-minded curiosity. Your personal experiences might have shaped your beliefs of the world, but understand that your beliefs are not universal. Ask questions, remain curious and open, and keep on learning.
- How do your friends handle the stress of work and school?
- Have any of your friends started investing?
- Is anyone worried about taking out student loans?
- What financial expectations do others have of themselves?
- Are there any other college hacks you can learn from others?
It’s important to note that you may not always receive a friendly response to some of these questions. People are sensitive when it comes to financial topics. However, this teaches another important skill: How to read a room! You will figure out who you can vibe with and who you can’t.
Seek Mutually Beneficial Relationships
Mutually beneficial relationships are learning experiences for all those involved. From friendships and romance to work situations and even family ties, mutually beneficial relationships teach healthy expectations and boundaries.
Not only will you understand your own worth, but you will also understand the value of others. These will be people you can lean on for professional and personal guidance, as well as general life advice.
- Relationships should be give-and-take
- Seek out relationships that offer a safe place for difficult conversations
- Mutually beneficial relationships create opportunity for growth and support in life-changing decisions (financial moves, career changes, etc.)
Explore Your College Resources
College is a rich source of information. Included in your tuition is access to many extracurricular clubs, lectures, networking opportunities, and more! I’ve personally worked with on-site career counselors and attended personal finance workshops.
Take advantage of these programs when available. You pay for them, after all.
- Sign up for workshop notifications
- Speak with career counselors
- Explore networking opportunities
- Attend personal finance/investment lectures
Use Your Brain
This should go without saying, but nonetheless, it’s important to keep in mind: Use your brain!
If you truly cannot afford college but would like to attend, there are many ways to offset the costs that don’t bury you beneath a pile of debt. From scholarship and grants to tuition reimbursement through employment, you can put yourself through school. Weigh your financial responsibilities against the cost of your education.
- Is a private university truly worth the cost over a public one?
- Read through your tuition and fees to understand actual coverage
- Don’t pick a major that doesn’t pay off
- If you DO have to borrow money, then be smart about it. Don’t subsidize your lifestyle and be irresponsible with your funds – you’ll have to repay it in the end.
Make a Stand
Create your own budget and change it when necessary. Truthfully, your friends will likely have different budgets, which will affect how you socialize. In the end, try not to let peer pressure affect your bottom line. Be confident in your decisions, but don’t stop learning and adjusting when needed.
- Set your budget
- Understand your value
- Be confident in your budget and financial future
- Understand that it’s okay to say no
- Inquire about the goal or benchmark required for a raise at work
- Ask for a raise or salary increase at work
It isn’t easy to connect with many people whose financial obligations are different from yours, especially in college. Personally, I found myself labeled as “the cheap one” amongst my friends. It didn’t bother me, really, because I had different responsibilities and plans than they did. They loved and accepted my cheap self, nonetheless. The key is to find your tribe and be comfortable with who you are.
As previously noted, college is an experience. It’s up to you to make it a good or bad experience, just like any other. With a positive mindset and a little preparation, the tips above should keep you focused on a healthy financial path that encourages good practices for your future.
Thank you for the Upwork link, did not know of that one. I was wondering if encouraging students that travel to join the airline mileage clubs simply because most mileage earned do not expire and maybe the car rental companies (usually year to year).
You’re welcome. Yes, that’s true – in fact, many car rental companies (and even some airlines overseas) offer student-only rates, in addition to the mileage clubs. Thanks for adding!
Along with these tips I expected something like a “college isn’t for everyone” segment in there.
If you’re not sure what you want to get from college perhaps consider a local community college or trade school that may open a channel to a career that wasn’t obvious in your high school days.
Welders, plumbers, and electricians can have six-figure incomes too, and those jobs can’t be outsourced.
I agree, college is not for everyone. I previously commented on alternative post-high school paths in the Financial Independence post, but could have also included a note in this one.
Attending college when you’re not sure you want to be there can be a pricey, but worthy lesson. Sometimes, you don’t know what you’re interested in until you pick a direction and go. Personally, I believe trade school should be more widely endorsed…I think it’d be worthwhile to attend, in general! Either way, career counselors are often great resources for exploring personal interests and potential skills.