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Have you checked in on your money management skills lately? When you’re busy attending lectures, studying for exams, and keeping up with your extracurriculars, it can be easy to let your financial wellness take a backseat. But as any student knows, college and grad school can be expensive, especially when you include all of the smaller costs (like buying textbooks, food, and school supplies) that add up over time. And with so much on your plate already, getting your financials in order can feel like a huge weight on your shoulders. In fact, according to a College Ave Student Loans survey, the top three words undergrads said came to mind when thinking about their finances were “broke,” “expensive,” and “stressful.”
Luckily, you don’t have to be a finance major to learn how to manage your money while in school! These four tips can help you set yourself up for financial success now and throughout your post-grad life.
1. Budget Your Money Throughout the School Year
Creating and sticking to a budget is one of the easiest and most effective ways to keep yourself on track with your finances. Not only does budgeting help you set goals for your savings, but it also helps you visualize your spending, so you can figure out where you need to cut back (for me, it’s always my morning coffee runs). But if you’ve never used a budget before — or have never successfully stuck to one — you might not know where to start.
First, add up your total income for the school year, including any paychecks you’ll receive from jobs or internships, leftover financial aid money, and anywhere else you receive money. Then, calculate the expenses you know you’ll have each month like cell phone bills, food, monthly subscriptions, and car payments. If any of your expenses fall within a range (e.g., an electricity bill that changes based on monthly usage), always plan for the higher cost.
Finally, subtract your total monthly expenses from your total monthly income. The final number is what you’ll have left over for saving or spending on things like textbooks, toiletries, eating out, and other personal expenses. From there, you can determine how you’d like to split up your leftover money — how much you’ll put into your savings, how much you’ll set aside for “fun stuff,” and more. Try to stick to this budget as much as possible, but remember that your spending will likely change each month, and it’s totally okay to make adjustments as you go.
There are also a variety of budgeting methods you can use to plan how you’ll split up your money, like the 50/30/20 rule. No matter what approach you choose, it’s helpful to have a place where you can keep track of your income and spending. For example, this downloadable budget worksheet from College Ave is super easy to use and even includes tips for managing your money!
“When it comes to budgeting, I am a big believer in the 50/30/20 rule! [It helps me] prioritize where my income needs to be going. Essentially, the rule suggests that 50% of your monthly income should go towards basic needs (rent, groceries, etc.), 30% on [non-essential] items (shopping, dinner with friends, etc.), and 20% for savings. If you have a steady income, then this rule generally stays the same, but if your income fluctuates like mine, make sure to check in on your finances every month and readjust!” – Siarah, The University of Texas at Austin ’23
2. Find and Apply for Scholarships Year-Round
It’s a common misconception that you can only apply for scholarships at the beginning of the school year. In reality, there are hundreds of scholarships available at any time of year — and if you need help paying for college or graduate school, you should definitely consider applying for some of them.
Not sure where to find the right scholarships for you? Start by looking on your school’s website for information or talking to a financial aid office or advisor who can provide you with the resources you need. You can also use free online databases that allow you to search for scholarships and filter your results to find opportunities that fit your background, interests, and more.
Keep in mind that every scholarship application is different. You might have to write an essay, film a video, or gather letters of recommendation from employers or educators. But when it comes to applying for any scholarship, it’s best to submit your applications as soon as possible. This will help you ensure you have time to apply for multiple opportunities.
“One of my biggest pieces of advice when applying to scholarships is to look at the terms and conditions of each scholarship you apply to. A lot of students do not know this, but a lot of the time, a scholarship’s terms and conditions will list the judging rubric they are using to rank your scholarship application. This tip has won me countless scholarships, as I make sure to hit every single benchmark in my application and connect my application answers to the organization’s mission.” – Sierra, New York University ‘24
Looking for an easy scholarship to apply to this spring? College Ave Student Loans is giving away a $5,000 scholarship — enter here.
3. Use Your Credit Card Responsibly
Let’s be honest: Credit cards can be intimidating if you’ve never had one before. But, when used the right way, they can be a great tool to help you build credit and a good credit score (which is essential if you want to apply for loans, buy a car, rent an apartment, or purchase a home in the future). But beyond building your credit history, a credit card can also come with rewards like cash back on purchases, points for traveling, and more.
You might already know how credit cards work, but what you might not know is how to use one responsibly. The last thing you want is to end up with a huge bill (and paying lots of interest) or worse, hurting your credit score, so taking some time to learn how to use your credit card wisely is always a good idea. Here are a few tips to get you started:
• Only charge things you can afford. The last thing you want is to be stuck with a huge credit card bill that you can’t afford to pay off. A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t pay for it with cash, you shouldn’t charge it to your credit card.
• Try to pay off your bill in full every month. Credit card issuers charge interest on the unpaid amount each month. Paying your bill in full helps you avoid these charges.
• Set reminders to pay your bill on time. When you miss your payment due date, you’ll be charged a late fee and your credit score could decrease. So, take some steps to make sure you always know when it’s time to pay your bill.
• Try not to max out your card or get too close to your credit limit. If you use a significant amount of your credit limit, your credit score could decrease. It’s best to keep your credit utilization under 30%, but the lower you can get it, the better.
When you’re ready to apply for your first credit card (or a new one), be sure to do your research and find one that fits your needs. There are several websites that allow you to compare different credit cards, which can be super helpful if you’re overwhelmed by the number of options available.
“While in school, building my credit has been super important to me. I started building my credit [during] my freshman year of college, and now I am about to graduate in a few months with a good enough credit score to [rent an] apartment. A credit card is nothing like a debit card, so to avoid any problems, I make sure to only use [it] for smaller expenses and things I know I can pay back like gas, streaming services, phone bill, groceries, coffee, etc. I make sure to pay it off in full each month so I won’t have to pay interest.” – Jordan, Clark Atlanta University ‘23
4. Learn About Your Options for Paying for College
Not sure how to pay for college or graduate school? Luckily, you have a lot of options, and it’s a good idea to consider all of them as you create your financial plan. First and foremost, you should always fill out the FAFSA — the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — even if you don’t think you’ll qualify. You might be eligible for certain grants or federal student loans that you weren’t even aware of! Through your application, you might also qualify for federal work-study jobs, which are on-campus employment opportunities designed to help students with financial need make money to cover their education expenses.
Scholarships are another great way to help pay for your education, so take some time to find and apply for opportunities that match your background or interests. Don’t be afraid to apply for a handful of them! If you’ve already taken advantage of federal student aid and scholarships and still need additional resources to help pay for your schooling, borrowing money through federal and private student loans is another option to consider.
“When first entering college and [researching your student loan options], look for [a solution] that will benefit you in the long run after you have graduated. Comparing different lenders, reading articles online, and staying up to date with recent news of certain providers are great ways to see what works best for you. Taking this extra time to educate myself to be better prepared for when I graduate has been a huge help.” – Pamela, Fashion Institute of Technology ‘24
If federal student loans don’t cover all your costs, College Ave Student Loans helps students find stress-free private student loans that keep up with their unique budgets and goals. College Ave offers a simple, 3-minute application process (the fastest in the industry!), flexible repayment options, and great customer service to help and support you throughout your educational journey. Plus, customers get free access to valuable financial resources, such as student loan calculators that let you see what a future monthly payment would look like, to help you plan for post-grad life.
Interested in learning more? Visit collegeave.com/hercampus!