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.
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Ask anyone what the important rules of money are and they’ll likely be able to give you several maxims that at least sound like good advice. Unfortunately, many people are walking around following rules that really don’t apply anymore. The subject of personal finance seems to attract old wives’ tales that masquerade as solid advice. If you follow any of these “rules”, you may be cheating yourself out of a fatter wallet:
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Last month I confessed to an addictive behavior: recreational shopping. I actually wasn’t sure if I could classify it as a full-fledged addiction. Then David commented, “I’m glad Vered got out of her ritual of checking the same website for new arrivals daily, but make no mistake, addiction was the perfect word to describe that behavior.” His comment got me thinking that it’s probably time to admit that I was indeed addicted to shopping – and to share how I was able to overcome my addiction.

My “harmless” daily virtual shopping trip had all the characteristics of an addiction. I knew I shouldn’t log on to that site, I struggled with it every single morning, but I did it anyway. And to add insult to injury, I then lied about it – I didn’t exactly share my purchases with my husband!

So how did I start on that path? First of all, I love shopping. Not everyone enjoys shopping, but those of us who do will know what I mean – browsing through merchandise, looking at beautiful items and picking a few that will become yours, bringing them home (or having them shipped), tearing up the wrappers and finding a new place for them. Shopping can be an extremely pleasant experience, especially since I believe humans are hardwired to love shiny new things and feel a sense of security when we surround ourselves with objects.
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My oldest daughter just started kindergarten and I’m quickly realizing school is going to be more expensive than I’d anticipated.

Though I was ready for some expenses, like clothes, lunches, and supplies, others – like the classroom cleaning supplies and tissues – caught me by surprise.

Here are the ways I’ve been trying to keep back-to-school costs down:

Buy A Year’s Worth of Supplies Now

School supplies aren’t going to be any cheaper than they are right now. Stocking up for the whole year (while crayons are a dollar a pack) makes more sense than paying three dollars in a month.

You don’t have to go overboard either. Just grab a couple extras of what your children regularly use. This way, you’ll have them on hand when it comes time to replenish.
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Hobbies, by definition, are something we do for enjoyment. They aren’t activities that we absolutely have to do. That means that in a purely financial sense, spending any money on hobbies — especially when you have other financial concerns like paying for food and shelter — is wrong. The reality of the situation, though, is very different. We all enjoy our hobbies (or we wouldn’t pursue them). It can help keep us motivated to pursue our other goals. If we never do anything fun, we may end up falling into a rut and feeling miserable. That’s no way to live. In that sense, we need that enjoyment almost as much as we need food if we’re going to live life to the fullest.

But How Much is Too Much?

The problem creeps in when you think about how much different hobbies cost. Photography can be a lot of fun, but you can wind up buying some very expensive equipment. Stamp-collecting can require purchasing stamps that may be worth more than the paper they’re printed on. Skydiving can cost more than $200 for a single jump. But if you enjoy your hobby, those hefty price tags can mean that your money is well spent: you may be getting a lot more out of spending that money than you would be buying a bigger house or saving it up for a rainy day.

There’s no denying that we all need a safety cushion. We each need to have a secure financial basis and spending more than a small portion of your budget on hobbies when you’re not in a great place financially rarely makes sense. Entirely cutting out enjoyable hobbies — especially those that are relatively inexpensive — should generally be a short-term strategy while you resolve other financial issues.

But when your financial house is in order, the question of how much to spend on your hobbies can be much harder to answer. If you don’t actually need a certain amount of money for anything, why shouldn’t you spend it on your hobbies? At the end of the day, money isn’t for hoarding.
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