Heading off to college is often a student’s first taste of independence. With parents no longer dictating a curfew and professors not taking attendance, it is easy to get lost in the new-found freedom. Students commonly spend student loan dollars on personal items, open credit cards and run up balances, or call on mom and dad to make up financial shortfalls.
When a student establishes the habit of simply asking parents for more money when they want it, they do not master the skills of living within a set budget or managing money. The college experience is an opportunity to learn firsthand how to manage money and to obtain financial literacy skills. Making financial mistakes, while in college, can teach valuable life lessons and give them more control over their money at the beginning of their career.
You can increase your child's financial aptitude by helping them pay attention to spending and learn creative ways to save money while they are away at school.
Here are seven areas to save money while at college.
Set a Monthly Budget and Track Spending
Financial awareness of spending habits is essential to living within a budget. Review their financial needs and then strictly adhere to the agreed upon budget each month. Whether funds come from parents, savings, a part-time job, or student loans, they can learn to live within a pre-planned budget.
If they run out of money before the end of the month, allow them to experience the natural consequences of their actions.
Encourage the use of free smartphone apps, which can help student’s keep track of spending. Two popular options are the Student Budget Calculator by FinAid or Mint.com. FinAid’s calculator will help them understand the total cost of attending school. Mint is a popular budgeting app that will track spending and guide the process of managing money. It is easier to be mindful of spending when they can see where their money is going.
Leave the Car at Home
Transportation can be a major expense for college students, which might include a car payment, insurance, gas, maintenance and repairs. They will also face the temptations to drive around friends who do not have access to a vehicle, leading to even higher costs.
Instead of taking a car to school, they can use alternative ways to get around, which might include using public transit, riding a bike, scooter, skateboard, or walking. Not only will you save money, but they will get daily exercise.
Save Money on Food
Food can be a major expense at college. Begin with a careful look at the school offered meal plan, as many schools require participation. Consider their class schedule and how they want to use the meal plan provided. Sign-up for a plan, which corresponds to their needs and schedule. For example, if their first class begins at 11, they might only use it for one or two meals per day, instead of three.
Most plans allow for the student to use credit in the school cafeteria, or local and on-campus restaurants. Cafeteria credit tends to offer more value for your dollar than restaurant credits. Using funds mostly at restaurants can quickly deplete meal plan dollars.
Other ways to reduce the amount of money spent on food includes:
- Learning to cook a few favorite meals.
- Cooking with friends and splitting the cost of groceries.
- Keeping snacks on hand to reduce impulse buys.
- Drinking water, especially at restaurants.
- Limiting alcohol consumption, especially at restaurants.
- Bringing a coffee maker to school, eliminating coffee shop or convenience store purchases.
Save Money on Textbooks
Buying new textbooks can run over $1,000 per semester. Begin with an evaluation of each class syllabus and the professors recommended and required textbooks. Former students are a good source of information about how the professor uses the textbooks in class and which ones are of primary importance.
There may be some books that are only used for a few weeks, while others the professor may refer to extensively throughout the semester. Students can often check out books infrequently used from the library. Look into renting or buying used textbooks for the primary text used in the course.
Take Advantage of Free School Entertainment
Today’s college campuses often have an abundance of free and inexpensive entertainment. From climbing walls, to bowling alleys and movie theatres. Colleges also frequently maintain museums, sponsor concerts, plays, and other forms of entertainment on a regular basis. Before spending money on off-campus activities, explore on-campus options.
Cancel Unused Memberships
Campuses frequently offer free access to campus gyms or discounts to local companies, which can save money on a gym membership.
Cable or Satellite membership is another place to save money. Most students rely on streaming services such as Netflix, rather than the traditional cable or satellite. They can watch movies or shows on their phones or laptops, often eliminating the need to bring a television to campus.
Look for Student Discounts
In college towns, many retailers offer student discounts with a college ID, providing savings of 10% or more on purchases. Always ask, because many retailers offer the discount, but may not advertise the policy.
College can be an opportunity for students to learn money management and money saving skills they will use for the remainder of their lives. With high schools often avoiding financial literacy instruction, college is a good place to acquire these habits. Money management becomes relevant to their everyday life, and learning from mistakes is not as costly as after graduation.