4 financial truths every college student should know

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Money—we all need it. Some of us have more than others. And most of us don’t really know how to make the most of what we do have.

But that doesn’t have to be you. As you get ready to head off to college there are four financial truths you should know to help you start off on the right foot:

1. Yes, college really does cost that much.

No joke. You’re looking at around $10k a year to go to college, and that’s if you stay in-state and go to a public university. For most students, there’s no getting around the need for scholarships, loans and any other financial aid you can get your hands on.

If the task of paying for school seems overwhelming, you’re not alone. It’s the number-one source of stress for college students (and numbers two, three and four, if you want to get picky about it). But you’ve got this. More than 20 million people did it last year, and so can you.

The trick is to make the most of your financial aid options. And yes, you do have options—lots of them. We’ve put together a handy flow chart to help you break it down into easy steps. You’re welcome.

2. Budgets are a necessary evil.

When your financial aid check arrives, it looks like a lot of money. But trust me, it won’t last as long as you think. If you don’t want to be living on ramen and rationing energy drinks during finals, you’ll need a budget to help make your money stretch.

Budgeting is actually pretty simple. All you’re really doing is making a plan and then following said plan. Add up your expenses, add up your income, and then figure out how much you have left to spend on optional stuff like pizza and dorm swag. Here are some tips to help you stretch your money all term.

3. Credit can take you places Uber can’t.

Listen. Do you hear that? It’s the sound of thousands of college students giving credit the stink eye. Take out a mortgage? Nah, I can rent. Get a car loan? No thanks, I’ll Uber.

But here’s the thing. Building credit is actually necessary to get all the things you want in life. Try renting a swanky apartment without a credit history—not gonna happen. Or getting tickets to instantly sold out concerts you’re dying to see. (Guess who gets to buy presale tickets? People with credit cards, that’s who.)

Credit really can unlock incredible life experiences, but only if you do two things: First, establish some. Get a credit card, charge a little, pay the bill on time. Rinse, repeat. Second, use it wisely. Don’t charge more than you can pay off, and set up auto-pay so you don’t forget to pay it. Learn everything you need to know about credit and how to use it responsibly.

4. Student discounts are your new BFF.

Got a student ID in your wallet? You don’t even know how lucky you are. That little piece of plastic is your passport to getting all kinds of cheap stuff. Businesses everywhere know the struggle is real for college students, and often offer surprisingly steep discounts on all kinds of stuff. Heck, you can even get 50 percent off an Amazon Prime membership.

But, like youth, the student discount is fleeting. You won’t have it forever. So flash that ID card like it’s a backstage pass at Coachella.

Feeling financially savvy yet? If not, check out some more great advice on how to get a financial head start.