This article is part of the Money Matters for All Ages group writing project being conducted by the M-Network and other blogging friends. See the bottom of this article for the full list of participants and links to their articles. Please check back daily as I will update the links as new articles are posted! Also, if you are blogger and would like to join into the discussion, feel free!
escaped graduated from college with no debt and a little savings account. So for the Money Matters series, I volunteered to talk a bit about my experiences, my friends’ experiences, and give some recommendations. Everyone’s situation is different, but I hope that what I have to say can apply in some useful ways to yours.
First—Scholarships, Scholarships, Scholarships
It’s hard for me to stress how much my scholarships helped me stay out of debt. They didn’t cover everything (thanks Mom, Dad, and grandfather!) but they covered over 75% of my expenses.
Not getting into debt is worth working hard for good grades.
Get creative with your scholarship search. Talk to your potential schools’ financial aid offices and see what they have to offer. Talk to your parents employers about any programs they might have. Talk to future employers about scholarships. Look for scholarships from your state–which may or may not require you to go to school in that state. Look for scholarships for your field.
If you don’t have great test scores, try to focus on ones that are looking to reward people who’ve been involved in community service and the like.
And remember that some scholarships can be used for all kinds of stuff–as long as it’s school-related. This laptop, for instance, was paid for with my scholarship. Or my books, or my meal-plan…
Don’t Stop Looking for Scholarships
Once you’re in college, you can still get scholarships. There aren’t as many open, but they’re there. Talk to your financial aid office. Ours had a well-kept secret that people who weren’t already on institutional scholarships could get ones if they had really high grades and in the top X number of students without institutional scholarships.
The Meal Plan is a Rip-Off (So is the C-Store)
There you have it. Your meal plan is almost definitely a rip-off. And buying food on campus is basically asking to be overcharged. Meal plans can still be useful in the first few years when you don’t have a kitchen of your own. Or your school may allow you to “charge” your card with money which you can either spend on food or get back.
Try to find workarounds. But if you have more money on your card than you can use (because some schools require you to buy a $1500 flex dollar plan) or an unlimited meal plan, take advantage of it. Spend every last dollar or eat almost all your meals in the cafeteria.
Once you have your own place, look into cooking in bulk. Be sure to talk to your space-mates about who buys the food, who cooks the food, and whatnot. Food is almost equal to money in the amount of stress it can cause. Learn recipes which make rice fun–or just use rice to stretch normal ones. But don’t be afraid to make cookies sometimes.
Pay Back Your Student Loan Leftovers
If you have money left over from your student loans, pay it back if at all possible. By paying it back, it’s as though you’re automatically earning yourself the money you won’t have to pay back later (including interest).
But if there’s a choice between buying necessities with credit cards or student loan money, use the loan money. Almost always the better choice.
Get an On-Campus Job
For starters, look for jobs on-campus or nearby. This will reduce your need for a car (see below). It’s easiest not to work the first semester, but you may have to. Working can really help reduce the amount of money you need to borrow. But I’d also say not to spend it all on educational stuff–use some for yourself, too. You’ll need sanity breaks and money helps.
Later on, you might want to branch out with paid internships (or unpaid ones). But for starters I’d recommend working on campus. The commute is free and the work can be rewarding. I’ve had great jobs as a research assistant and a bathroom cleaner. At the same time, actually.
Find Ways to Save Money on Clothes
One thing I was shocked to learn in college is that clothing swaps and second hand stores like Salvation Army are actually fairly popular. Great for me, since those have been my primary sources of clothes for a while. It can be really fun taking a trip there with friends to look for gold amid all the duds from the 80’s.
David at My Two Dollars just brought another place to my attention. It’s an online clothing swap called Swango and everything there is $0.99 plus clothing credits.
Consider even making some money by finding a consignment shop to take your lightly-used better quality clothes.
Of course, there’s the normal caveat–don’t buy what you don’t need, even if it’s on sale. But seize on these trips as a fun way to hang out with your friends and improve your wardrobe.
For a free way to get clothes, arrange a clothing swap party with your friends or floormates.
Don’t Buy a Car
Some places, you might…but other times you really don’t need a car. The disadvantage of this is that it may hurt your chances of getting internships. In that case, consider not getting one until your Junior year at least.
Cars are a huge money drain and many campuses are located in towns which make them unnecessary.
If you borrow your friends’ cars, be sure to put in some gas.
Take a Personal Finance Class
Your college probably offers one somewhere. I think I’ve learned more from the blogs, but it helped me master the basics like the difference between a Roth IRA and an IRA. We also did practice budget spreadsheets which we then had to follow. Good experience. Plus mine was a fairly easy A.
Don’t Get Too Stressed About Money
If possible. College is a place where we learn, and learning from our mistakes is a big part of that. Relax, find ways to make frugality fun (or rather just do fun free stuff, don’t even think of it as frugal), hang out with your friends, and learn.
How did you save money during college?
I have so many thoughts on money and college that it’s hard to collect them all. This post could really be a series of posts—4 years leaves me with a lot of to talk about. So I’m sorry if it seems about disjointed.
- January 15 – Introduction at My Dollar Plan
- January 16 – Preschoolers at I’ve Paid for This Twice Already
- January 17 – Children and Pre-Teens at Being Frugal
- January 18 – Teens at Gather Little by Little AND at DebtFREE-Revolution
- January 19 – This Post, Here.
- January 20 – Financial Advice for Your Twenties at Remodeling This Life and Money Tips for the Twenty-Something Crowd at Cash Money Life
- January 21 – The Thirties at Moolanomy and My Two Dollars
- January 22 – The Forties at Credit Withdrawal
- January 23 – The Fifties at Millionaire Money Habits and Credit Withdrawal
- January 24 – The Sixties and beyond at Chance Favors and Rocket Finance
- January 25 – Retirement at Four Pillars and Plonkee Money
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