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10 Tips for Managing Your Money as a College Student

Debt is an unfortunate inevitability for many students in the U.S. Fortunately, there are several strategies you can adopt to reduce your student debt burden.

Tiffany Park
Tiffany Park

Student debt has become a serious burden for many young people throughout the country. No one wants to be that broke college student, but taking on more responsibility and cutting back on some luxuries can go a long way to help make ends meet during these years. Start with these 10 tips to manage your money as a college student so you can reduce your debt burden and enjoy your college experience.

Keep a Budget

The best place to start is to learn how to keep a budget. You can’t make changes if you don’t know your current financial state. Drawing up a budget is the best way to understand that.

Start by listing out all your income, including your work paycheck, scholarships, financial aid, and any contributions from family members. Add it all up to find your total income.

Then list all your expenses–fixed and variable. Fixed expenses must be paid every month, such as subscriptions, rent, utilities, and car payments. Variable expenses do not have to be paid every month and may vary in amount from month to month. These typically include  entertainment, activities, or purchases that present themselves in the spur of the moment.  Add  all of these up to determine your total expenses.

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Finally, balance your budget. Subtract total expenses from total income. If the number is positive, you can put the extra money into savings. If it’s negative, you’ll need to find a way to either increase your income or decrease your expenses (or both!). In the process, be sure to differentiate your expenses into two categories: “needs” and “wants”. If you notice a large amount of wants, consider reducing your spending in this category to give you more financial breathing room.

Using an app, such as Mint, can be extremely helpful to busy students in tracking their daily earnings and spendings. You can also use a spreadsheet, or good old-fashioned pen and paper.

If your budget is, in fact, unbalanced–or if you’d simply like to save extra money–read on for tips to increase your income and/or lower expenses.

Increase Your Income

Find Work

College students tend to have a lot of responsibilities on their plates, and a job often needs to be one of them. Seek out a standard part-time job (or full-time, if you’re really ambitious!). If you prefer a less-traditional route, find ways to make money from home, such as freelancing, customer service, becoming an Amazon or eBay seller, social media influencing, or tutoring.

Take Advantage of Financial Aid

Of course, we can’t forget about financial aid. When preparing to enroll in post-secondary school, one of the first, most essential steps to take is to complete your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This will determine your eligibility for financial aid, including free grants or loans which would need to be paid back eventually.

Grants are essentially free money, so accept all those awards you’re offered. When it comes to loans, be sure to only borrow what you need to help cover the costs of tuition and living expenses. If you borrow extra, it’ll only come back to haunt you later on when you have to pay it back.

Some grants require you to meet a certain GPA in order to keep your award. Be sure to maintain high grades so you can keep any gift aid you qualify for. If needed, consider getting a tutor.

Apply for Scholarships

You hear it a lot, but it still can’t be said enough: apply to scholarships. As many as you possibly can. There are all sorts of scholarships out there, including opportunities for academic performance, unique hobbies, athletic ability, musical talent, ancestry and background, and many others. Most scholarships require an essay of some sort, but there are plenty of no essay scholarship options as well.

So true: »Don't waste your talent!« Sprayed on the streets of Berlin.
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Applying for scholarships is often heavily emphasized before a student enters college. But it’s important to remember, you are still eligible for many scholarships as a current student. So every chance you get during your college career, do some scholarship searches and send out some applications. You never know what awards you could receive until you try!

Reduce Your Expenses

Plan Meals

Eating out is fun and convenient, but if you’re living on a budget, it’s best to eat in as often as you can. Plan your meals out to help you narrow your grocery list each week. And when you do go out for your grocery trip, stick to your list to avoid impulse buys.

Shop Smart

Here’s one tip to discipline your spending in a store: Leave the credit card at home and bring just enough cash to cover what you plan on buying during that trip. This way, you limit yourself and are totally unable to buy those eye-grabbing extras.

When shopping online, save money by using a Chrome extension, such as Capital One Shopping. This can find discounts and compare prices for you, so you get the best deal possible on your purchases. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for places that offer specialized discounts, like student discounts and military discounts,

Use Student Resources

In addition to student discounts, there are many on-campus perks that come with being a student. Take advantage of school events that offer free food or entertainment. Most campuses also have a library, gym, health services, financial assistance, and other means of student support.

Save on Entertainment

You don’t have to cut out all the fun in order to save money. For instance, to cut down on TV costs, find ways to watch TV without cable or satellite, such as antenna TV or streaming services.

Regularly evaluate the monthly subscription services you’re paying for. Either make good use of them or cancel your subscription if it’s not of use to you.

Plan for the Future

It’s inevitable that the majority of students in the U.S. will accrue some debt in obtaining a higher education. So make your plan now for how you’ll repay it later.

There are many strategies to pay off student loans. Consider your expected salary for the field you’ll be entering and factor that in to make a plan to repay your student loans. You can also automate payments, consolidate, make extra payments, or apply for loan forgiveness.

Find the method that works best for you, your career, and your life plans, and then stick with it. In the long run, you’ll be so glad you had this plan to eventually guide you to that coveted “debt-free” status.

Tiffany Park is a frequent contributor to PracticalAdultInsights, where she is a communication, health, and parenting writer with a passion for improving family connections for herself and others.

Personal Finance