It may be spring break time, but ambitious high school and college students are already scrambling to line up summer jobs—the higher paying, the better! Many students, however, fail to realize or choose to forget that paying for college involves much more than tuition, room and board.
Even if you’re on a meal plan and won’t be hitting the bars, you’ll need money for other things throughout the upcoming semester. It’s tempting to spend your hard-earned cash on a new wardrobe or the latest gadgets, but here are just a handful of the many reasons you should save for the school year:
The amount of money you should save for the semester will depend on your unique situation and whether or not your parents or family will help contribute to your living expenses. Students with cars will need to pay for gas, which is most likely costlier than buying a bus or train pass; students who live in off-campus apartments will have different housing costs than students who live in dorms.
Some students feel secure knowing they have a few hundred dollars set aside; others want a thousand dollars or more. Everyone’s circumstances are different. To estimate how much you need to get by each month during the semester, especially if you don’t plan on working while you’re taking classes, use a free financial planning program like Mint, make an Excel spreadsheet, or simply write down the numbers on a piece of paper.
Once you have a general idea of how much money to save, stretch your money during the summer with the following money saving tips:
Know the difference between wants and needs. A need is something that you can’t go without and a want is something that you’d like to have but isn’t really necessary. You need shoes and jeans to properly clothe your body; you want designer brand-name products because they’re nicer than ones from Target or Wal-Mart.
Research major purchases. Put in a little effort before handing over a large amount of money. Make sure you’re getting the best price by comparing prices at multiple stores or websites. Check online reviews to read pros and cons from consumers who already own the products.
Pay attention to your spending habits. How much are you spending on coffee before work each morning and lunches with coworkers? It might be a lot more than you realize.
Limit impulse buys by thinking twice. Before you toss that pack of gum and issue of People onto the conveyor belt, ask yourself if you really need it. The same goes for that bottle of nail polish or new CD. Chances are you wouldn’t be heartbroken if you put it back on the shelf.
Shop with cash. The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (CARD Act) has made it harder for students to get credit cards, but it’s just as easy to overspend with a debit card that’s linked to your checking account. When you hit the mall, withdraw cash from the ATM to ensure you don’t spend more than you intended to.
Borrow or buy used if possible. If you need something that you’re only going to use once or twice—like a dress to wear to a wedding—see if you can borrow one from a friend or find a used one. The same goes for books, textbooks included. Visit the library or a used bookstore to save big.
Take care of your stuff. Tangible goods do wear out eventually, but you’ll have to replace things far less often if you take good care of them. The same goes for your car, if you have one. Schedule regular maintenance like oil changes and tune ups to keep your car running longer.
Stash some cash whenever you receive it as a gift. Do your relatives give you cash or checks instead of birthday or Christmas presents? Before you run out to purchase a gift for yourself, put half or 25% of the money in your savings account for a rainy day.
Sticking to a budget can be difficult for people of all income levels, but if you make a sincere effort when you’re young you will be in much better shape than many of your friends and peers.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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