The terms “college student” and “impoverished” are practically listed as synonyms for one another in the thesaurus. According to economic statistics, college students consistently rank near the bottom of the barrel when it comes to income, overall earnings, and spending power. What else can you expect from the group that popularized the ten-cent dorm room feast commonly known as ramen noodles?
But even though your college years will probably represent the lowest point of your life in terms of net worth, that doesn’t mean that you should throw all caution to the wind and abandon fiscal responsibility. To the contrary, many experts say that the spending habits you develop during this crucial period can make or break your financial prospects later in life.
So even when you don’t have two dimes to rub together, it’s vital that you take a prudent approach to managing your money. Here are a few helpful tips, tricks, and strategies designed to help see you through the four years of voluntary poverty also known as the college experience.
Save up for large purchases. Sure, it’s convenient to whip the plastic out of your pocket for big-ticket purchases, but if you’re not careful, that $250 game system could end up costing you two or three times that once you’ve paid off all the interest twenty years from now. Rather than going the credit card route, try to save up for things like electronic gadgets, road trips, and big nights out in advance.
Set up and stick to a basic budget. You don’t have to be a master of the spreadsheet and track all of your purchases obsessively to practice basic money management. Instead, at the beginning of every month, sketch out a basic chart that shows how much income you’ll have and the fixed expenses and bills you’ll have to pay. Then, set aside a little bit extra for unexpected emergencies and a few big nights out. You don’t have to track every penny you spend on midnight munchies runs to be able to stick to a basic budget.
Take advantage of free and low-cost campus resources. Most campuses are a virtual treasure trove of cheap entertainment opportunities. Often, the businesses that surround the campus get in on the act, too, offering specials geared to fit college students’ tight budgets. Train yourself to be a master of the good deal, always keeping an eye out for bargains and free events.
Don’t take on more debt than absolutely necessary. When you’re mired in poverty, it can be mighty tempting to take out the maximum student loan amount every semester, even if you don’t need them. Try your hardest not to fall into this trap, only taking on as much debt as you need to cover your expenses. It may hurt now, but you’ll be grateful later on.
Force yourself to think about the future. College students often seem to have an aversion to planning and prudent decision-making. In fact, scientists have shown that the areas of the brain that are needed to engage in these types of behaviors usually aren’t fully developed until humans reach their mid-twenties. Still, even though college is a time for fun and carefree revelry, it’s best to force yourself to get into the habit of thinking about the future now, and to try to make your financial decisions accordingly.
If you’re a soon-to-be-freshman or a first-year college student, which financial worries or issues are keeping you up at night? Do you have a general idea of the budget you’ll be working with once you hit campus? Tell us all about it in the comments.
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