The day I got my first financial aid check, I couldn’t believe how much money they were handing me. That was before I realized the funds would have to cover all my expenses for the whole term. If I didn’t want to run out of money before midterms, I’d have to budget very carefully.
Managing your money in college is a different sort of beast – but it’s the sort of beast that can be tamed. The more creative, resourceful and practical you are, the easier it is to make your funds last the entire term.
To support both your financial (and academic) journey, OCCU partners with local universities to offer credit cards and other financial products geared toward the needs of college students. Whether you’re a Duck, a Beaver or going to a different school entirely, we’ve got resources to help you succeed.
For starters, here are a few helpful tips we wish we would have known before heading off to college:
1. Make a 50/30/20 budget
Your college income and expenses can vary wildly from month to month, so it’s difficult to set a hard-and-fast budget. Instead, try following the 50/30/20 rule, a simple, flexible budgeting technique to help keep your spending on track. Aim to spend around 50 percent of your income on needs (rent, bills, etc.), 30 percent on “wants” and 20 percent on savings and debt repayment.
Pro tip: This budget depends on your ability to tell your needs from your wants, so prepare to get totally real with yourself.
2. Work your student discount
In a college town, you’ll be amazed at how many businesses will offer a discount to students. But they don’t always advertise it, so it pays to ask. Keep your student ID handy in case they need to see it.
Pro tip: Get in the habit of asking about a student discount everywhere you go.
3. Buy used textbooks
One of the best money-saving tips I ever got as a college student was to buy used textbooks whenever possible. You can save a small fortune this way and pocket some extra cash for weekend plans.
Pro tip: Keep them in good shape and you can often sell them back at the end of the term for credit toward your next purchase.
4. Cultivate multiple income streams
Successful college students become quick experts at cobbling together multiple sources of income. It helps to have an internship or job (or two or three) to supplement your financial aid checks – and in today’s gig economy, finding flexible work is easier than ever.
Pro tip: Part-time work related to your field of study can help you land your target job once you graduate.
5. Take an interest in your interest
Anytime you borrow money, whether it’s a car loan, student loan or credit card, always shop around for the lowest interest rate. Even a small difference in percentage can mean big savings over the life of your loan.
How about earning more on the purchases you make on or around campus? Our free student checking account can help. We’re here for giving extra earnings back to you.
Pro tip: Credit unions typically offer lower interest rates on loans and higher interest rates on accounts than banks – plus other great benefits for cash-strapped college students.
6. ‘Set and forget’ your savings
Saving might seem hard when you’re already tight on funds, but the less money you have, the more important it is to save. Make it easy on yourself by having a portion of each check automatically deposited into your savings account.
Pro tip: Sign up for Change Jar, which rounds up debit purchases to the nearest dollar and adds the difference to your savings.
7. Make friends with your mug
Drink purchases are one of the top college budget offenders. Just $5 a day on coffee or other beverages can add up to more than $700 over a school year. Plan ahead and bring your own beverage whenever possible.
Pro tip: Invest in a great reusable mug and take it with you everywhere.
8. Check your subscriptions
Do you know how many monthly subscriptions are taking money from your bank account right now? From streaming services to gaming subscriptions to data storage fees, it’s easy to sign up and forget about them. Individually they might seem cheap enough, but “you can 5-buck your way to poverty and debt more quickly than you think,” says Tana Gildea, author of The Graduate’s Guide to Money.
Pro tip: Comb your bank statement and add up all your monthly subscription fees. Once you recover from the shock, decide which ones you can live without.