“I’ll figure out the money part when I graduate and start making real money.”
As a college freshman, this was a common conversation that I found myself having with my classmates. Most of my peers didn’t want to worry about money. As students, we just tend to think that we will be rolling in money when we graduate or that personal finance isn’t something that we have to think about.
College can be an amazing experience. College can also unfortunately be an expensive experience that leaves you in debt until you’re well into your 40s or 50s. I want to help you get a head start on your finances when you’re still a teenager so that you can avoid being stuck in massive debt for decades.
Long story short: I want to show you how to have a good life in the future by just taking some little steps when you’re young.
Why should you even care about money management?
The common argument against money management as a student is that it just doesn’t matter. Worrying about money is for people with money, right? Wrong. It’s important that we start thinking about money management as early as possible.
Here’s why money management matters as a student…
You’re not just magically going to figure out money as an adult.
Money management is a skill like anything else. You have to work on it to get better at it. If you start budgeting and thinking about money as a broke student, you’ll have the skills to better manage your money when you finally do have money coming in when you’re older.
You won’t get as rich as you think you will.
We tend to overestimate how much we’re going to make after college. The truth is that even if you study something in a lucrative field, you won’t make the highest salary until possibly a decade into your career.
When you get your first paycheck, you’ll be disappointed to see how much money has to go towards taxes, bills, and debt. Most young people are lucky to have a few bucks to buy a six-pack on a Friday night.
Every bit helps when it comes to money.
As you get older, you learn that every dollar matters. Saving $20 a week adds up to $1,040 a year. That $20 may not seem like much, but it can lead to a thousand extra dollars a year. You don’t have to save huge amounts to build up your bank account. I started slowed and increased my savings amount until I finally started making more money.
That’s why money management in college matters. Now let’s look at how you can get a head start on your finances.
How do you get a head start on your finances as a college freshman?
There are many tips and tricks about finances that I had to learn the hard way as a college freshman. You get to learn from my mistakes today.
Apply for “free money” and financial aid.
Did you know that most colleges offer scholarships and all kinds of financial assistance?
I know what you’re thinking. You’re probably annoyed by the idea of the mandatory essay that you have to complete. Trust me, I thought that these were annoying too. The good news is that it’s an essay where you just explain why you deserve the money and not some boring research paper.
This simple essay could land you a $1,000 scholarship. How many hours would it take you to earn that a minimum wage job?
How do you apply for financial assistance?
- Check out the financial aid website/office at your school to look out for scholarships, bursaries, and grants.
- Check to see if any local businesses are offering scholarships.
I promise that if you look around, you’re going to find that there are many opportunities for scholarships. You can dedicate one afternoon to filling out a bunch of forms.
Don’t buy new textbooks.
You don’t have to buy new textbooks every semester. I made this mistake in the first semester of college and then never again.
Here’s my approach to textbooks:
- I attend a few classes to see if the professor even goes through the textbook.
- I see if the library has a copy of the textbook.
- I ask if anyone wants to split a textbook in class.
- I look for used options online.
Whatever you do, don’t buy the expensive new textbooks.
Get to know your professors.
You want to have connections for when you graduate and are looking for work. Your professors will usually have office hours so there will be opportunities to speak with them. They were in your shoes at one point so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
I got to know a few professors when in college and they helped me out with reference letters/connections when I graduated. This will go a long way in simplifying your job hunt. You don’t want to graduate from college with no options.
Earn your fun.
I’ll say something that most personal finance writers won’t admit. It’s okay to have fun in college. You don’t have to just focus on your studies. You want to build your social skills and make friendships when you’re young.
So how do you earn your fun?
- Complete your studies first.
- Save your social events for after-exams.
- Use your own money and not student loans/credit cards.
Get a job on campus.
I recommend that all students work even if it’s just a few hours per week. You want to get into the habit of working and managing your time. The good news is that you can find work on campus.
What are the jobs that you should apply for on-campus?
- Teaching assistant. You get to work with professors and you make decent money with this.
- Exam invigilator. I did this job and was paid to watch people write exams.
- Lab assistant. You essentially get to study while sitting in the lab.
- Anything else you can find. You can serve coffee or find any other gig to bring in some money.
Every dollar matters when you’re young. Try to find a gig on campus that helps you bring money in.
Find a program with work terms.
One of the best things that you can do for yourself as a student is to find real-life experiences so that you’re ready for life after graduation. This is why it’s important to find a program that offers some sort of work terms.
I realize that there are many lame internships out there, but there are still amazing work term programs in case you’re feeling discouraged. These programs force you to go through the entire process of landing a job and then trying to be a decent employee. You’ll work in your field, make some money, build relationships, and decide if the career path is right for you.
If your college doesn’t offer work terms, then you should still try to find work on your own in the summer. Any work experience as a college will go a long way for life after graduation.
Don’t pay for everything with debt.
“Drinks are on me. I got more money with my student loans than I needed this year.”
I’ll never forget when a friend said this to me. I had already started blogging about personal finance so I couldn’t accept this generous offer.
Whatever you do, don’t use your student loans for everything.
You’re going to need student loans for tuition. You’re not going to need loans to buy drinks or to travel. Don’t borrow more money than you have to.
That’s how you can get the most out of your college experience if you’re a college freshman. You don’t have to graduate college with thousands of dollars in debt. You don’t have to be a college freshman confused about money either.
This article was originally published on Debt Discipline.com and republished here with permission.