If you think budgets are only for those with families and careers, think again. Budgeting is one of the most essential life skills college students can master. Creating a plan for managing your finances will let you see where your money is going every month and allow you to work toward goals like traveling, paying off student loans, or saving for your future.
Everyone’s financial picture is different, which means your budget will be unique to you. In this article, we’ve compiled eight excellent budgeting tips for students to help you get started. While you probably won’t use every one of them (this is your budget, after all), this list can provide you with a few valuable ideas.
1) Use an App for Finances
It may seem overwhelming to add yet another app to help you manage your life as a college student. However, the best budgeting apps practically work on autopilot once you’ve set them up. Depending on your preferences, there are many different types to choose from.
Envelope systems like Goodbudget offer students a simple way to categorize expenses. And Mint’s classic budgeting app is excellent for those who want an intuitive, all-in-one money management solution. Both are free and available on Google Play or the App Store. These are just two options out of a wide range of money management apps out there. Don’t be afraid to try a few of them to find the perfect fit.
2) Open a Savings Account
This tip is so cliche your eyes probably glassed over when you saw it, but listen up. Weird stuff happens, and when it does, it almost always involves money. Cars break down, shoes wear out, and emergencies occur. Good things happen too. Your favorite band comes to town. Your friend has a birthday. You are invited to a ski resort for the weekend.
You’ve heard it a million times. When you have money saved, the unexpected events in life are much easier to deal with. You won’t need to beg or borrow to handle them with grace because you, my friend, will have a financial cushion. How comforting is that?
3) Save Money and Buy Your Textbooks Used
If you’re still buying brand new textbooks, do a little research. While not every book can be purchased used, a significant number of them can. Considering that a single new textbook can set you back a few hundred dollars, it’s well worth looking into second-hand books.
Your college campus bookstore may be one option. And Amazon, Textbooks.com, Campus Books, and Chegg are also great places to start your search. Not only can you purchase textbooks for up to 90 percent off the cost of new books, but you may also even be able to rent them for the semester.
If you do need to purchase a new textbook, you can at least make some cash back by selling it on one of these handy sites when your class is complete, thus recouping some of your costs.
4) Make Extra Money with a Side Gig
Everyone is picking up a side hustle these days. It’s a great way to get ahead with your bills and expenses or afford some of the extras you might not be able to otherwise. Fortunately, college students have plenty of opportunities to make some extra cash in the new gig economy.
Due to the pandemic, there has never been a higher demand for online tutors, remote customer service reps, and tech support workers. There are many websites that curate lists of part-time remote work opportunities. Delivery services like UBER Eats, Instacart, and DoorDash are always hiring as well.
If you’re looking for a more leisurely way to make money online, there are legitimate survey sites that offer users gift cards and cash for sharing their opinion. Paid online surveys are a terrific way to put a little extra money in your pocket, and you can work on them between classes, as you’re watching TV, or even while riding the bus.
5) Invest in a Good Coffee Maker
This next tip may look a little arbitrary, but consider this: By some estimates, the average college student spends over $1000 a year at trendy coffee shops. That daily white chocolate mocha frappuccino with caramel and whipped cream might be powering you through your early morning classes, but what’s it doing to your wallet?
If you want to save some money, start making coffee in your apartment or dorm. The one-time expense of a great coffee maker can save you a pile of dough in the long run. With a little ingenuity, you can even replicate your favorite Starbucks drinks at home. Hint: a third of a cup of super-strong coffee will stand in for a shot of espresso in a pinch.
6) Use Your Student Discount
If you’re not taking advantage of your status as a student, you’re leaving cold, hard cash on the table. Dozens of retailers like JanSport, J.Crew, e.l.f, Gap, and others offer student discounts. Deal Hack’s student discount guide is a great place to start looking.
In addition to retailers, students can save on services like mailing, travel, insurance, and more. Student Universe offers a host of travel deals expressly for students. FedEx offers 30 percent off shipping fees with a valid student ID. With Allstate, those under 25 can qualify for a Smart Student Discount on their auto insurance. The savings go on and on.
There are plenty of unadvertised deals for students, too. You just need to ask for them. So don’t be shy. Keep your student ID on you wherever you go and rack up savings on entertainment, food, banking, and even a new laptop. And if you haven’t already, be sure to take advantage of Amazon’s Prime Student program.
7) Take Advantage of Free Events
Most colleges offer lots of free things to do. At many sporting events, flashing your ID will get you into the game for free. You might even score free food or swag just for showing up. And you can generally find film screenings, art exhibits, and free concerts on campus throughout the year.
If you’re wondering how to find these events, check your school’s social media sites, dedicated app, or even your email. If your university has a student activity fair, make a point of attending. This is where you’ll find out all about the various clubs and activities you can sign up for.
It’s likely the town where your school is located will also have lots of free or cheap activities going on, from festivals to block parties to volunteer opportunities. Keep an eye on the local paper or town website to stay up on the latest happenings. Going out to bars is overrated. Save your money and try something new.
8) Borrow as Little as You Can Get Away With
By mid-2019, consumers under age 34 owed over $620 billion in student loans. Figures like this can be hard to wrap your mind around, but they are fact. If you must avail yourself of student loans to pay for school, try to borrow as little as you possibly can.
Student loan debt can’t be discharged in bankruptcy like other consumer debt. If you borrow more than you can reasonably pay off in the future, your financial choices will be limited for years to come, long after you’ve got your degree.
Unfortunately, student loan debt is usually not avoidable. The majority of students will need to pay for their education—at least in part—by borrowing. But managing the money you receive is vital. While it is tempting to go for the most you can get, you should try to match your loan amount with your essential expenses and nothing more. Then, start working on a plan to pay off your student debt as soon as you can.