Going to College? Tips on How to Best Manage Your Finances

Written By Marie Abendroth
Last updated September 24, 2021

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Personal Finance
May 3, 2021

Simple. Thrifty. Living.

To enjoy the ultimate college experience, you need to keep your finances well-managed and under control from your first day through graduation. This move lets you minimize debt and get a head start on a successful future without compromising all the fun that university life offers. Ready to get started? Use these tips on how to best manage your finances through college and beyond.

There’s no doubt about it: College is expensive. If you want to earn your degree without going into serious debt, you need to look for smart financing options.

The funds will need to cover:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Textbooks and supplies
  • Housing
  • Utilities
  • Clothing and shoes
  • Medical insurance
  • Food
  • Transportation and parking

Also, think about what you need for events and activities outside of school so you can get away from it all from time to time.

You should start by asking your parents if they set up a 529 plan or another type of college fund for you. Then, connect the account to an accessible management system, like CollegeBacker, to pay your tuition, buy textbooks, and cover other expenses.

If that’s not possible, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, to see what grants and loans you’re eligible to receive. Also, check with your school to learn about any scholarships you can apply for each quarter. You can sign up for no-cosigner-needed funding through Funding U and get up to $10,000 each year for your school expenses.

Even if you have a full free ride and plenty of monetary support from family, plan to create a budget and follow it through your college journey. With a budget in place, you can get an eye-opening look at how you spend your money and make changes on the fly.

The easiest way to create and manage a budget is through an app like Boro. This app lets you monitor your income, track expenses, and set monthly spending goals. It even allows you to view how your spending habits compare to other students at school, so you see where you can tighten things up a bit.

Although you are just building your empire, don’t forget to sock away money for a rainy day. You can save a set amount per pay period or put a twist on the 52-week savings challenge. Either way, you’ll watch the account balance grow bit by bit as you work toward graduation.

If you go beyond a basic savings account by opening an investment fund, the gains will undoubtedly blow you away—and UNest makes it easy. Through that app, you select between five investment options and watch your funds grow.

You can contribute up to $1,100 per year tax-free, plus additional tax benefits along the way. As you do that, all your favorite brands, like Old Navy, DoorDash, and Disney+, provide rewards to sweeten the deal even more. It’s even possible to invite family and friends to contribute, helping you build a better future one dollar at a time.

To prepare for whatever comes your way, you want to have at least $1,000 in an emergency fund at all times. Beyond that, you need to pay for your necessities and school expenses to get through the college years unscathed. It’s often wise to embrace a rather frugal lifestyle whenever you can.

Besides following a budget and savings plan, look at your finances to see how you can avoid wasting money, like:

  • Make most meals at home instead of eating out at restaurants.
  • Brew all your coffee yourself instead of going to Starbucks or grabbing energy drinks.
  • Leave items in your online shopping cart for at least 24 hours before deciding to buy.
  • Always comparison shop for textbooks, school supplies, and anything else you need.
  • Review your finances and eliminate all unnecessary subscriptions and other memberships.

To best stay on track, you need to let down your hair and have a bit of fun occasionally. So, make sure your budget and savings plan includes spending money you can dip into when you want to go out and have a blast.

It’s easy to get into hot water if you don’t pay off your credit card balance in full every month. For that reason, these cards are a poor choice when money gets tight.

While you are in college, do all you can to minimize your use of credit cards. If you do use them, only buy what you can afford at that moment with the money in your bank account. Then, pay off the balance as soon as the purchase hits your credit card statement.

If that is not possible, skip them altogether. Save these cards for when you near the end of college and want to build up your credit score.

To best build up your income and keep from landing in a debt trap, use your free time to pursue side gigs and earn more money for the month. Aim to turn your favorite hobbies into a side gig to win all around.

You might want to:

  • Mow lawns, pull weeds, and do other landscaping jobs.
  • Crochet amigurumi creations and sell them in your online store.
  • Start a beauty side hustle, like a makeup tutorial streaming channel.
  • Open up a dog walking or pet sitting company.
  • Tutor other students in math, English, or other tough subjects.

You can advertise your business on the school bulletin board or through your social media channels. Before long, you’ll have a loyal customer base and plenty of money coming in.

By getting in control of your finances in the college years, you set yourself up for success. So, follow these tips to make that goal a top priority and get ahead of the game now.


About the Author

Marie Abendroth

Marie is a skilled content strategist and SEO copywriter with a focus on helping people improve their personal finances and overcome their barriers to success. In her articles, she aims to provide up-to-date info that can help everyone better understand how to invest in a better future.  

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