With the start of the academic year, thousands of high-school graduates are entering college — and handling their own finances for the very first time.
Here are four important tips that every college freshman should know to keep them from getting into financial trouble:
1. Understand your meal plan
Many larger schools are now offering meal plans that will allow students to purchase food at fast food restaurants or use points based on a la carte purchases. Unfortunately, it can be very easy to use up all of your meal plan points during the first six weeks of school if you don’t keep an eye on how much you’re using and how much you have left.
Instead of using your meal plan to indulge your passion for burritos and pizza from local restaurants, figure out ahead of time how often you can afford to treat yourself each week — and stick to it. Otherwise, it’ll be a long, hungry and/or expensive slog to get to spring semester.
2. Talk to your financial aid office
Many college students will talk to the financial aid office only as often as they have to: once when they’re applying to schools, once a year as they resubmit their FAFSA, and once when they have the exit interview before graduating. That’s an excellent way to not understand your loans or what your payback options will be.
Freshmen should schedule an appointment with their financial aid office to talk about their loans, and to learn if there are any ways to mitigate their debt. Now is an excellent time to research other ways to bring in money for the next four years, so that your loan total will stay reasonable, rather than ballooning into something overwhelming.
3. Plan your fun
The college life really is all that it’s cracked up to be. You have friends around you 24/7, and there’s always something fun going on. Unfortunately, that also means it can be hard to say no to a last-minute invitation to go out, order a pizza, or attend a concert.
Not only will constant partying wreak havoc on your studies (which are the reason you’re at college, right?), but it will put a serious dent in your wallet. That’s not to say that you can’t have fun, or even be spontaneous. You just need to plan ahead for what you can and can’t afford to do, both time- and money-wise. If you know you can afford only five nights out a month, it’ll be a lot easier to stick to your guns when temptation calls.
4. Start saving
In addition to a new checking account, it’s a great idea to set up a savings account when you get to college. It’s never too early to get into the habit of paying yourself first. Having a savings account all set up for emergencies will allow you to handle “life happens” moments in stride — like when your car needs a repair, or the textbooks you need for second semester are much more expensive than you expected.
Even putting away as little as $10 per week will be a great start to an excellent habit.
The Bottom Line
Getting into good financial habits as a college freshman will help you prepare for financial issues throughout the rest of school, and beyond.
Do you know a college freshman who could use these financial tips?