6 Money Tips for College

School is starting up again and, even in today’s unusual landscape, students need to budget for tuition, textbooks, supplies, groceries and more.

But with everything going on right now, you might be stressed about how exactly you should go about planning your financial future.

It doesn’t have to be hard. All you need to do is make a few small adjustments — and we can help. Here are a few money tips for college students:

Create a budget. And stick to it.

The first tip takes a little bit of leg work but quickly becomes a habit.

Take an hour or so to do a quick audit of your current financial situation. Add up all your expenses and debt payments and subtract them from your monthly income. Evaluate where you can cut costs and look at how much can be put toward debt and savings.

Once a month, or once a week if you’re feeling ambitious, sit down and fill out your new budget. Find out where you strayed, where you stuck to your goals and where you might need to make some adjustments. Doing this now will help you create a healthy relationship with money that will help you in college and beyond.

Take advantage of student discounts.

As you develop your budget, keep in mind that your student status gives you access to an incredible number of discounts — especially if you live in a college town.

Start by looking at restaurants around you. Local coffee shops and casual restaurants often offer discounted goods with a student ID.

Look beyond your town, too. Companies like Apple, Microsoft, ASOS and more will cut you a deal as long as you have a .edu email address.

Be smart about student loans.

For many of us, student loans are just a fact of life. And while taking out that kind of money can seem intimidating, you can do so responsibly.

Start by maxing out on all the “free money” opportunities. File for FAFSA every year you enroll, and apply for any grants and scholarships you qualify for.

Once you’ve done that, you can look at student loans. Be sure to borrow just as much as you need, not as much as you want. It will be tempting to take out the maximum amount, but the interest you’ll pay on it later won’t be worth it.

Speaking of interest, start making a plan to repay your loans as soon as possible. That might mean eating out less than you’d like, but you’ll be ahead of the curve when you graduate.

Use credit wisely.

Credit is an important factor in your financial well-being. Your credit score helps determine what kind of car loan and mortgage you’re eligible for. And while you might not plan on buying a car or house anytime soon, college is a great time to start building your credit.

There are a number of credit cards available, but you should try and find the best one for you. Look for one with a reasonable limit, low interest rates, and attractive rewards programs.

Jade Beckman, vice president of consumer loans at Mountain America Credit Union, has advised, “If you haven’t started building your credit yet, college is a great time to start. Get a student credit card and use it for essentials only, such as gas, groceries, and textbooks, and pay it off as quickly as possible to help get your credit score up. Be intentional about how you use your credit card and your efforts will pay off.”

Once you get the credit card, set a strict spending limit that you’ll know you’ll be able to pay back. Create calendar reminders on your phone to pay your bill in full and on time. If you need to use your credit card to pay for an unexpected emergency, call your creditor and discuss a repayment plan that won’t cost you too much in interest fees.

Find a side gig.

We know a student’s schedule is not typically full of free time. That being said, a part-time job or lucrative side gig can give you a major financial boost.

Talk to your school about any on-campus opportunities, then start looking at the businesses within walking distance of your residence. Make sure you speak to any potential employers about taking shifts that don’t interfere with your class schedule.

If you can’t find a job that works with you, consider a side gig that lets you create your own schedule. For some, that means freelance writing. For others, it means knitting and selling scarves on Etsy. Don’t be afraid to get creative!

Automate your savings.

Once you start getting regular paychecks, it’s crucial you pay yourself before anyone or anything else.

What does that mean?

It means automatically depositing a portion of your paycheck into a savings account of some kind. It might be tempting to take that paycheck straight to the bank to cash in, but saving a little bit here and there will go a long way.

There are a number of different savings accounts you can choose from — and it all depends on how much you want to deposit and what your savings goals are. If you’re looking forward to retirement and are confident you won’t need to access that small chunk of your paycheck for a while, consider an IRA account. If you’re looking for more immediate gratification, look for a high-yield savings account. You can even focus on creating a small emergency fund for yourself.

Whatever you do, make sure the contributions are consistent.

If you need help budgeting, opening checking accounts, applying for a credit card or saving for the future, reach out to your preferred financial institution today.