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How to Manage your Money In College

College and University Blog - Resources, help, and insight for your college experience

Tuition, books, and the occasional pizza are just some of the expenses you may have as a college student. If it seems like you never have enough money, a few money management tips may turn things around.

It is essential to know where your money goes. Track your spending for about 2-4 weeks. Write down everything you spend. Make sure to include even the smallest purchase. Look at your finished list carefully. It will probably become obvious where you are spending money and where you can cut down. Use this information to curb your expenses and spend your money wisely. You’ll usually start to curb your spending just by tracking your expenses.

Watch for emotional spending. Money can buy us pleasure, friendships, or give us a feeling of power. Be careful not to let money substitute for emotional needs that need to be addressed in other ways.

A great tool to manage your money is to map out a budget. List all sources of income – financial aid, money from summer jobs, money from your parents, etc. Next, list your expenses – tuition, books, food, etc. Your goal is to have income higher than your expenses. If this is not the case, you will need to lower your expenses or raise your income in some way. Budgets need to be flexible and can be revised after the first month or two.

If your parents are helping with your expenses, sit down and discuss how this will work. To avoid misunderstandings, be up front about which college expenses they will cover and which they expect you to pay. Once you’re in agreement, have them set up a plan for disbursing those funds. Monthly payments typically work best.

Remember to include entertainment in your budget. You will quickly get burned out if you don’t have any fun. Be mindful of these expenses. Fortunately, great entertainment can be cheap on a college campus. Pay attention to your school newspaper for options. Some things will cost less if you show your student ID. Check for student discounts if you need to travel.

It’s very possible that you will have a large amount of money all at once for your expenses. If this money has to last the entire semester, give yourself a spending limit each week. It is tempting to spend, spend, spend when you first get your money; only to find yourself dead broke at the end of the semester. If this may be a problem for you, you might want to seek the help of your parents. They may be able to dole out your money on a regular schedule.

You will be bombarded with credit card offers in college. Be careful. Having a credit card is a good idea in case of emergencies, but it is easy to get in over your head. Find a card with a low interest rate and use it sparingly. It is possible to set your own credit limit instead of letting the credit card company set it for you. Just because you have a $2,000 credit limit doesn’t mean you have to spend $2,000. If you are more comfortable with a $500 spending limit, call your credit card company and request a lower credit limit. Card companies will try to raise your credit limit from time to time – tell them no each time they try. A good rule of thumb is to never charge more than you are comfortable paying off each month. If you are looking for the convenience of a credit card, consider using a debit card. Debit cards give you all the convenience you need but you are limited to the amount of money in your bank account.

Plan ahead for big expenses. Whether it’s a spring break trip with friends or a car insurance bill, start saving early. It’s easier to set aside $50 each month than to come up with several hundred dollars all at once.

If you get yourself into a money mess, don’t be afraid to ask for help. It can be very difficult to tell your parents that you’ve screwed up. While your parents may be unhappy about your fiscal irresponsibility, they may be able to help you out. Be prepared for a discussion about money and maybe a lecture. If an unexpected event changes your financial situation, don’t give up on school! Contact your financial aid office. Most colleges set aside funds to help students get through difficult situations.

If money is a little tight, there are some easy things you can do to save money:
  • Don’t eat fast food everyday. You’ve probably paid for a meal plan in your room and board package. Use this to eat your daily meals. Fast food can get expensive when you eat it everyday.
  • Learn how to economize. Use coupons for things you frequently buy. Keep them in your car or billfold so they are handy. Check your college newspaper for restaurant coupons.
  • Rent a movie instead of going to a theater. Borrow a movie from your local library or from a friend.
  • Stock up during sales for things you know you will need and use.
  • Use e-mail instead of the phone. Consider changes to your cell phone service or carrier if you can save money by doing so.
  • Use a shopping list at the grocery store and don’t shop when you are hungry. This will help cut down on impulse buys.
  • Take advantage of the free and cheap activities on campus. Universities are famous for having excellent cultural events and entertainment at a low price. Check your school newspaper for musical performances, readings, lectures, etc.
  • Consider opening a checking account at a local bank. Find a bank that offers free checking for students and has several convenient ATM locations. This reduces out-of-network ATM fees. If your school has a credit union, check into using their services.

Saving is a part of spending too. Consider putting a little money away on a weekly basis. Just a few dollars each week can add up to a few hundred dollars at the end of a year.


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Emily over 6 years ago Emily


Great post. I don't know about you but I've had a lot of trouble keeping track of my budget in order to assess my spend. Because of this I've found it hard to actually set a budget and then stick to it. But then a friend of mine showed me this awesome app (unfortunately you have to pay for it, but it's helped enough that I figure it's worth it) called "Tax Receipt Log". Basically, I take a photo of every receipt I get after spending and enter the total and a category. It then compiles the spreadsheet for me. I add this to my online transactions and for the first month ever, I know what my budget is - a little too high to be honest :). Anyway, thought I'd share as it helped me and I wouldn't have thought to look for it.