Making Money Matter in College
Kristen shares tips for managing money during your college years.
By Kristen Lemaster
October 08, 2012
In my short year-and-a-quarter of college so far, I have had to grow up. A lot. It has been terrifying and empowering and everything in between, and I have swung from bitter frustration to unbelievable gratefulness for the opportunities and challenges that have forced me to become more adult, despite my commitment to staying young at heart. With the new freshmen lighting up our campus with their relative innocence and freshness, the bitterness has faded away and allowed me to realize just how important money consciousness is in life, and especially in college.
It is easier said than done, but developing good spending and saving habits in college are like developing any other habits when you are younger. Exercise, dental hygiene, and sleep do not decline in importance as you age; if anything, the long-term benefits begin to manifest themselves, and the people who didn’t have those habits before wish they did and push themselves to create them. Money is in many ways a very adult concept, and that can be scary. But if you take little steps, like the following, now to develop a sense of responsibility and manageability, it will not be as scary when it really counts.
Learn how to balance a checkbook. This is one of the habits that I am proud to say I have adopted since moving away from home and having to manage my own money. It is a great feeling to have all your expenditures neatly organized in an easily accessible place – almost as if you were really grown up! It also comes in handy in a variety of more practical ways, from letting you look back on previous semesters to see how much you’ve spent on tuition to instilling in you a sense of fiscal responsibility. If you would feel ashamed later to have to write down the purchase, don’t buy it; if it’s something valuable and mature (like a Passport!), you will love putting such a monumental moment down on paper.
Assess your happiness. Shopping is a great way to make yourself feel better, and it’s always exciting and reinvigorating to receive something in the mail. But ask yourself why? Are you buying that new dress because it is versatile and will be worn in multiple situations, or did you purchase it to feel that shoppers’ high? It’s okay to admit you are unhappy, because college should be one of the greatest times of your life. If it is not, something needs to be changed, and the answer will never be to keep spending money on things you don’t really need.
Monitor your own spending. Balancing your checkbook can definitely help you with this tenet of establishing financial consciousness, but it can get more complicated than that because it should also include your credit cards, cash, and other methods. For example, a lot of colleges offer debit cards specifically for on-campus or nearby purchases, including laundry, food, and school supplies. It can be easy to let this money run away from you because you are less connected to the purchases – there’s more distance and perhaps a false sense of security. These expenditures are just as important as the big ones, though, and you can save a significant amount of money each week simply by consolidating loads of laundry or cutting down on vending machine purchases.
Save up for something, anything. Keep a separate portion of your funds not for emergencies but for something that you genuinely want, like studying abroad or the newest iPhone or your favorite hobby. You can use this stash to reward yourself on great grades or to celebrate major accomplishments in your college career. Saving money can also teach you the positive side of how small sums can add up to something greater, which replaces the scary part of finance with excitement and possiblity.
Lastly, keep searching for scholarships! Scholarships do not disappear after you enter college; in fact, in some ways there are even more available to you after you graduate high school. Ask your major department for local scholarship opportunities, or search online for scholarships within your major. Check what kinds of loans or scholarships are available through the organizations in which you are investing yourself. Greek life organizations, honors societies, leadership programs, and student government bodies all typically award scholarships to students who are dedicated to the organization and passionate about scholarship, leadership, and service.
Some people will tell you that college is the best four (or five?) years of your life. There is a reason why you don’t hear them say it is the cheapest, but that is part of the maturation process. Even as uncertain as I am about entering the workforce, and as paralyzing as student loans feel, college has taught me that managing my money somehow makes everything else more manageable, too. More importantly, it reminds me that some of the best things in college have no price. Maybe the cost of great new friendships is a slightly lower reading quiz grade, or the cost of seeing your favorite music artist perform live on campus is another sleepless night, but those moments matter just as much as money. College, with all the worry and stress and fear about money that accompanies it, should be priceless.
What are your strategies for managing and saving money in college?