If you're just starting out on campus and can put some of your focus on your finances, you have a great opportunity to learn how to manage your cash and save yourself endless headaches down the road.
Here are a few things you can do to keep your finances in order.
Learn to budget
Tuition, groceries, dining out, textbooks, rent — the expenses never seem to stop piling up. Creating a budget can help you regulate how much you spend and on what. Use a spreadsheet, a notebook, or a good budgeting app to track what your purchases. And always prioritize essentials before indulging on new shoes or concert tickets.
Know the ins and outs of financial aid
Students miss out on billions of dollars in free government aid each year. Fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, early and you'll be more likely to receive the scholarships and grants you qualify for. These should always be your first priority when it comes to financial aid.
Private scholarships can also be valuable, even if they're small sums. Try to spend two hours a week researching and applying for scholarships.
If you still need funding, try federal loans first and private loans last. Neither is free, though it might feel that way now, so borrow only what you absolutely need.
Practice good credit card habits
Horror stories of spiraling credit card debt might have made you wary of plastic. But the length of your credit history is a key part of your credit score. And having a good score can earn you a lower interest rate on a car loan or a mortgage in the future.
Although you're a student, you don't automatically qualify for a student credit card; you'll need income or a co-signer. If you don't have either, consider a secured card. These require you to put down a cash deposit as collateral, but if the issuer reports your account activity to the credit bureaus, they can help you start building credit.
Develop good credit card habits now. Think of your card as another debit card and charge only an amount you can pay off with what's in your bank account. And don't carry a balance from month to month — paying in full will keep your credit score high.
Save money where you can
The outside world tries to make up for your sky-high tuition costs with a little something called student discounts. Big retail chains such as Apple, Banana Republic and J. Crew, as well as movie theaters and museums, offer discounted prices for students. If you don't see one advertised, just ask.
Avoid paying full price for your textbooks by searching for used copies on websites such as Chegg and Abebooks. Amazon offers a 50% student discount for Amazon Prime accounts.
Build your resume
True, college is expensive, but it's also an investment. College graduates earned about 63% more than those with only high school diplomas in 2013, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.
Make sure you get that degree — but improve yourself in other ways, too. Learn a foreign language and volunteer for leadership positions. These skills will set you apart in a competitive job market.
The costs of being in college might keep your wallet thin now, but in the long run, it could turn out to be the best financial decision you ever made.
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