Learning How to Manage Finances in College

Source: Boaz Yiftach, freedigitalphotos.net

This post may be for you or a friend with college-age children. Please share it with others if you find the information helpful. I have a nephew in college this year and this post is written for him.

I started college as a 17-year-old freshman, I had a financial plan, but as I became older reality set in and I learned the reality of how expenses really add up beyond just paying tuition. Here are some tips that I think every college student should be aware of.

  1. Once the enrollment date has been set and you’ve been accepted, it is time to visit FASFA.ed.gov. FASFA stands for Federal Student Aid. It is an application that has to be filed out in order to see if you qualify for special federal funding. This application will help you find out which grants, loans, and other aid you may qualify for.
  2. It is OK to work; in fact, I recommend it. My first semester of college I didn’t work and I had a hard time staying focused with all of the free-time I had a no guide to steer me back in place. After I found a job tutoring elementary students, I was forced to prioritize my time, studies, and my social life. By the time it was my senior year of college I had 3 part-time jobs (a janitor, online distance learning employee, and a Resident Assistant).
  3. Take advantage of Work Study jobs. If the student is eligible for a work-study job in some cases it may help him or her get a better job on campus. Work Study is federal aid given to students that work part-time to pay for school.
  4. Budget. Write down how much your books will cost, your food, your living expenses, your entertainment, gas, car payments etc. You need to have a good overview of how much money you will need to live comfortably or minimally, which you can afford.
    1. Schoolbook buying tips. Please look online at these companies for good deals: ebay, half.com, hpb.com, amazon.com/halfpricebooks, betterworldbooks.com. Also go through Ebates and make your purchase so that you can receive cash back on online purchase (for instance on all Better World books purchases you will receive 3% back, which will add up before the 3 month pay out). Consider using price grabber as well to see what is the best price that comes up.
    2. College students are often broke and hungry; don’t be afraid to use coupons. One site that I adore is southersavers.com (this site explains couponing and tells you, which deals are currently available)
    3. Living expenses, if you can live at home, or with a goal-oriented friend (not one that is majoring in partying) your expenses may possibly be less. For some students it is best that they live on campus to focus and get to school if they do not have their own transportation, but you need to evaluate what is best for your situation.
    4. You want have time for much entertainment, but sometimes you will need down time. One of the best entertainment options to be is exercise, you can enjoy it with a group, it can be free, it helps to relieve stress, and helps your overall health. If you are in a relationship try to find free activities and don’t neglect your studies. (I met my husband in college so I can’t say don’t date, but date responsibly and use caution.)
    5. Check out the article How Much Financial Aid Will I Get From FAFSA.
  5. The skinny on Student Loans. They are not horrible especially if you need them to get a higher education. If you are willing to take out a car loan, then you should be willing to take out an education loan if it is absolutely necessary. In a sense, loans for college tuition are like an investment because by getting your education you will be able to pay off your loans. Sure you may incur thousands and thousands of debt, but if you continue to get higher education, you will be eligible for better paying jobs. If you are someone that gets a refund check during school (I never did) but to those that do take that money and start paying down the loan immediately if you do not need it for living expenses. The check is not money to play with at your leisure. Even after all of my planning, scholarships, jobs, and grants I still had to take out loans but now, I have repaid them all.
  6. Health Insurance. This probably doesn’t come to mind when thinking about college, but as long as you are living and breathing it should. Things happen and some sort of insurance is important, if your parents’ work and their job allow college students to stay on their medical insurance, by all means please do so. As an alternative many schools offer access to affordable plans. If you have a preexisting medical condition there are state nonprofit companies that may be able to help.

One of the beauties of college is that it teaches a person how to discipline him or herself. Learning to be disciplined financially while in college will help you for the rest of your life. If you have something that you think I should add to this list please let me know because students should feel empowered and not blind about how to navigate this new stage in their lives.

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