Balancing Act: Tips for Managing College Life: Part III

Tips include creating a budget, shopping smart for textbooks, being conscious about credit, researching loans and financial aid, and separating wants and needs.
College student buying a textbook in a bookstore

While earning my undergraduate degree, I learned a few things about balancing the many responsibilities that come with attending college. I recently shared some tips on managing college academics and handling a part-time college job in two earlier blog posts. Today I'd like to share some guidance on making smart choices when it comes to money. College is the first time that many of us have the opportunity to earn some income and also have full reign over the decisions we make with our finances. The earlier that we can learn to be responsible with our money, the better! Here are some tips for fellow students:

  • Create a budget: Many college students have to pay for their own out-of-pocket expenses (and don't have the luxury of having parents to help with those costs). Creating a (realistic) budget will help you better track your finances without spending all of your money. Online personal finance tools like Mint are a great resource.
  • Shop smart for textbooks: I stopped buying some textbooks directly from the bookstore sophomore and junior year and rented them instead. Try the rental services at eCampus. As another alternative, if you're on campus, you can check with you school's library before purchasing books–they usually keep one copy of every book on reserve for students to read. I also recommend waiting until you have successfully completed one full week of classes before getting your books. By doing so, you will be able to ask your professor which books you really need from the class list. Websites such as CampusBooks and TextbookRush are also helpful for buying less expensive books.
  • Be conscious about credit: If you have a credit card, pay it off as quickly as possible. Although it is good to establish credit once you hit a certain age, bad credit will follow you and may not allow you take out loans in the future. If you are ready to apply for credit card, make sure you talk it over with your parents or another trusted adult first.
  • Do your homework on loans and financial aid: Make sure you apply for all of the financial aid that you may be eligible to receive. This will reduce your college costs. And if you borrow loans, understanding the exact size of your student loan debt before graduation will allow you to come up with a plan to pay it back. And even if that plan means living with famly after graduation or sacrificing Netflix, having a smart repayment strategy will help you with your finances in the long run.
  • Separate wants and needs: Out-of-pocket college expenses can quickly mount up without you realizing it. Instead of spending a ton of money on things you don't really need or aren't going to use, Pinterest offers a plethora of do-it-yourself projects and convenient ways to save money. Also, if you're going to be living with roommates, see which items they will be bringing so you don't have go out and buy them yourself.

Taking the time to make smart choices with your money will help you while on campus and after you graduate too. Be disciplined, and remember to think about the long-term as you make purchases throughout the year. Are there other money tips that you've learned while at school? Share them with us on X (formerly Twitter) (@MEFAtweets)! We'd love to hear them.

Read our Part I college life tips

Read our Part II college life tips