The following is a guest post by Andrew Rombach of ScholarshipFly.
As you prepare yourself for college, one of the most difficult things to manage will be money. The broke college kid stereotype is around for a reason, and it is never more relevant any other time than during college.
In college, there are two types of expenses: the cost of attendance and the cost of fun. College is characterized by these two expenses. Tuition has been skyrocketing, textbooks have been following suit, and the actual cost of living has never left the equation. On top of all that, there are the random spontaneous expenses as well as the weekend bar tab. The combined effect of these can be crushing.
With that being said, there are certainly ways to make college life a bit more financially stable. It takes some resolve, planning, and a little flexibility, but it is entirely possible to make it through the expenses associated with college.
Below are some helpful personal finance tips for college students that can help you when it comes to preserving your wallet:
1. Find Free Financial Aid
A perpetual characteristic of college is student loans which have become a staple of higher education. Roughly 70% of college students borrow student loans, and the average debt per borrower is around $30,000. Having debt throughout and after college is an awfully tough financial obstacle, so it is best to limit the need for student loans.
Luckily, there are several ways to do this, and they all have to do with “free money” which means there is no student loan debt involved down the road.
The first type of financial aid is a scholarship. These are common opportunities offered by certain organizations or foundations that can help a student fund their education. There are tons of scholarship resources that make the application process easy. The key is to start searching for scholarships often and early since you can find opportunities throughout college as an undergraduate.
The other source of free financial aid comes from the government. There are federal grants that are offered to undergraduates on the basis of financial need. The two most common are the Pell Grant and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant. These are a bit harder to come by, but they do not need to be paid back unlike a student loan.
2. Start a Personal Budget
While it is a dreaded subject that sounds like a broken record, having a personal budget is step one towards financial stability. These can go a long way in college for some obvious reasons.
In simple terms, a personal budget is just a big addition and subtraction problem on a sheet of paper or Excel sheet. They are simple, yet powerful; in fact, the personal budget is essential in terms of rent, groceries, utilities, and more.
One major incentive of a personal budget is understanding how much money you have to spend on a weekly or monthly basis. It helps you track your spending, so you can make improvements in certain areas by cutting down or spending more. Additionally, you can tackle unforeseen expenses with more confidence knowing your discretionary income.
Just to reiterate, a personal budget is basically a snapshot of your overall financial health. It can only help you make financial decisions. Think of it this way: A budget can help stop you from spending your rent at the bars in a weekend.
3. Live Off-Campus
There are two ways to live at college: on-campus or off-campus. In most cases, living off-campus is going to be the cheaper option.
Opting for the dorm life on-campus usually costs thousands of dollars per semester (only 3.5 months), but it does not end there. Many colleges require students living on-campus to pay for a meal plan which costs thousands.
The other option is much more financially viable. While college towns generally are a bit more expensive, the rent for living off-campus is almost always cheaper than living on-campus especially with roommates.
4. Take Advantage of Student Discounts
Many students overlook their eligibility for discounts with their student IDs. You will find that many of the establishments around colleges offer discounts to anyone with a valid student ID. On top of this, there are many businesses across the country that have a general student discount policy.
Each individual discount with a student ID does not amount to much on its own; for instance, you can generally hope for 10 or 15% off a purchase or for free shipping. It is still a helpful tip that can add up throughout four years of college.
5. Buy Your Textbooks Online
It is no secret that student textbooks are ridiculously priced. Many students complain about the cost of books, yet their prices rise every year. Buying these books through the school costs an arm and a leg. Luckily, there is a way to limit the overall expense of these learning resources.
This is done by simply finding your textbooks online at websites such as Amazon or eBay. You can find discounted prices from third party sellers such as old students. It is not unusual to find textbooks for half price or less on certain websites.
Another source is a social media group where you can reach out to former students who may have your textbooks.
The bottom line is to avoid the university prices as at all costs. The less you pay for college now, the better off you will be.
About the author: Andrew Rombach is a man on a mission: To spread the word about scholarships in order to help kill the student loan debt debacle. Read more at his website ScholarshipFly.
Now it’s your turn: What are some personal finance tips you would give college students?