4 Money Tips Every College Freshman Should Know

by Emily Guy Birken · 4 comments

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. Some will learn quickly on their own, but many others will struggle and end up with more debt than they know what to do with.

Here are four important tips that every college freshman should know to help 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 the 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. You certainly don’t want the amount to balloon into something overwhelming.

And for those who are too proud (or too lazy) to even contemplate getting aid, think twice before you put all your expenses onto a loan. Financial aid is available for everyone. Refuse to take the time to get the free money and you’ll be reminded for years to come every time your student loan payment is due.

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 also 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 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 the 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. Don’t be like so many who ignore the basics and then end up with hundreds of thousands in student loans. It could take years, if not decades to dig yourself out of that debt hole.

Do you know a college freshman who could use these financial tips? 

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Samuel says:

    I think learning to save and compound at as young an age as possible is crucial. I think the biggest regret of most investors is not starting sooner.

  • John S says:

    Great tips! I think #4 would be a great thing for anyone starting college to really take advantage of the time aspect. I would add that having a job would make it even better and help them to get started managing some money on their own.

  • Jon says:

    If you have a meal plan, be sure to take advantage of it. The more you fill up at the cafeteria, the less likely you will be buying pizza late at night. This saves you money now and in the future by not putting on the dreaded “freshman 15”!

  • Marbella says:

    Try to take it easy the first 3 months and hold tight onto your money. Your new friends will join you and after a while, the bunch of you will discover what is the cheapest and most fun during the study period.

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