Trying to learn how to manage and save your money while in school can be a challenge that often seems impossible. With these guidelines, however, you can set yourself down the path toward financial responsibility without becoming overwhelmed with rules, limitations, and details.Make a Budget Before You Arrive
If you've never made a budget before, it can seem overwhelming. Luckily, though, with a little basic math, you can figure out what your budget will be. Figure out what your "income" is (payments from student loans, campus job paychecks, and/or help from Mom and Dad). Then figure out what your "expenses" are, and when they're due (tuition at the beginning of the term, books at the start of the semester, dues for a fraternity or sorority, etc.). Once you have those figures for the semester (or even year), break them down into what your income and expenses will be each month. As long as your income is more than your expenses, you're in great shape and can make a budget.
Any "leftover" money each month (i.e., money that comes in but that isn't already allocated) should still be budgeted. For example, if you have $100 "extra" each month, you could budget $30 for going out to eat, $30 for music, and $40 for clothes. Then, once you hit that amount, you know that you can't spend anymore without taking it from another expense (next month's rent, perhaps?!). Have a general budget for your finances before you start school to prevent any problems as the semester progresses.Get a Campus Job
If, after making your budget, you find that you would like, or even need, some additional income, consider finding an on-campus job. Most students work while attending school. On-campus jobs are often much friendlier to student needs (extra time off around finals, more flexible hours, and bosses familiar with having student workers) than off-campus jobs. Additionally, some jobs (in the library, in the mailroom, or at the campus coffee shop, for example) will let you get homework done when and if things are slow.Use Your Student Discount
No matter where you're going to school, the nearby and surrounding communities are used to having students around. Often times, restaurants, bookstores, movie theaters, travel agencies, clothing shops, and all kinds of other stores will offer discounts to local students. They benefit because they hope you'll tell your friends about their store; you benefit because you get a discount. Don't be afraid to ask if places will offer you a student discount if you show your student ID. You may be pleasantly surprised by where you can save money!Think Creatively
You're in college because you're smart. So use your noggin'! Can you save money by buying used books? Not ordering pizza so often? Can you buy a few items at the grocery store, such as cereal and milk, that you can keep in your room to avoid having to pay higher prices in the campus dining hall? Can you adjust your meal plan to a less-expensive option? Can you find a way to live off-campus, such as getting an apartment with a roommate or living in a fraternity or sorority? Maybe have the vacation come to you over Spring Break, instead of the reverse? Buy used books instead of new ones? Spend a day taking notes in a notebook about all the places where you spend money, and what you spend it on. Then use that big brain of yours to think creatively about other options.Try to Avoid Using Credit Cards
Credit cards can be a lifesaver to a lot of people, but they come at a high cost. Do you really want to be saddled with credit card debt while still a student, and/or once you get your first job? Credit card debt can rack up quickly, and increasing numbers of college students are getting into financial trouble by using their credit cards during their college years. Only use a credit card if absolutely necessary. For example, if you just don't have money for books but obviously have to have them for class, find used books or see if you can check them out from the library. Having a brand new credit card doesn't mean that you should just buy all new texts at the first place you find them available.Have an Emergency Plan
Sometimes, life just happens. You have to buy an unexpected flight home for a family emergency. You needed to get an emergency root canal. Your car got hit and you had to fix it in order to be able to commute to campus. Schools know this, and most have small emergency funds that you can tap into if you're out of other options.
Try checking with your financial aid or dean of students office. Explain your situation and see if your school has small, emergency loans that will help you out. Most schools want you to stay in school and not have to worry about the unexpected things that sometimes pop up. Additionally, if it's an option for you, don't be afraid to call home and ask for a little help. It's often easier to do so when things start getting tight instead of when they've gotten out of control.
Most students head to college looking forward to becoming independent and managing their lives on their own. Managing your money is part of that independence. Starting early, and starting strong, will help ensure that your college experience is spent focusing on the fun stuff instead of the financial part! Remember: if you're good to your money, it will be good to you.