6 Tips for Making Sound Financial Decisions in College

The financial decisions you make in college can impact the rest of your life. You have at least some financial independence and you’ll be creating habits that last well beyond college. If you want to start your post-graduation life on the right foot, follow these tips to help you make sound financial decisions in college.

Keep Track of Your Cash

Sign up for a bank account that offers online access, gives free checking and a debit card, offers plenty of ATMs, and doesn’t charge a lot of fine-print fees. Check your balance daily to track changes and set up account alerts so you’ll know if your balance dips below a certain threshold or if the bank notices suspicious activity. Learn to balance your checkbook, too, and do it immediately after every transaction lest you forget to enter something and find yourself overdrawn later. It’s a more active way to track your activity than just checking numbers on a computer screen and it forces you to think about every payment you make.

Start Saving Now

When you apply for a checking account at a physical bank or one that is online, open a savings account at the same time. Every month, transfer a few dollars into that account and forget about it unless you encounter an emergency. Over time, it’ll become second nature to sock away cash in preparation for the proverbial rainy day. Look into savings accounts that require no/low monthly balance and accrue some interest.

Be Honest With Yourself

If you know you’ll run up the balance on a credit card as soon as you call the number on the back to activate it, say “no” to credit until you get older. Opening a credit card and using it wisely can help you build a credit history, but not if you can’t handle the temptation that comes with “buy now, pay later.” The same goes for other financial commitments. Sure, you want a new car, but can you really afford the payments? Force yourself to wait seven days from the moment you decide you want to make a big purchase. Think about the potential fallout before you sign on any dotted lines.

Stay In/Scale Down

You’d rather hit the town with your friends than lock yourself in your dorm room to study, but if your cash situation won’t support the cost, decline the invitation. Create traditions with your college friends that don’t require anyone to spend money. Organize a movie night in your dorm rather than going to the movie theater, host a potluck rather than going out to eat, and get creative with having fun on a budget. And trust us, that $5 mocha latte tastes much better when it’s a once-a-week treat rather than a daily norm.

Look For Discounts

No matter what you buy, look for ways to save money. Can you go online to find cheaper textbooks or download a coupon for your favorite clothing store? Does that museum you want to visit over winter break offer a student discount on admission? Each time you shop the clearance rack or swipe a coupon, you put money in your wallet and set up great financial habits. Wherever you go and whatever you buy, ask if there is a student discount. Often there is but it’s not well publicized.

Seek More Financial Aid

Each time a semester ends, you can apply for new financial-aid options that might reduce your financial commitment next term. If you can avoid student loans while you gain your education, you’ll graduate with less debt and better prospects. Visit your college’s student-services office to ask for help. And remember that the better your grades, the better your chances for scholarships.

Have fun during your college years, but don’t give your bank account an unnecessary workout in the process. Instead, take time to think through spending decisions and use available resources to save money whenever possible. When in doubt, err on the side of saving and caution and always ask “Do I really need this?” before buying.

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