Your checking account is low. "I'll just call home," you say, but you soon learn that your parents refuse to send you any more money. "What about my savings?" Depleted, and you won’t be receiving your work study check for another two weeks. "Okay," you tell yourself, "I can make it through this." Then you open your mini-fridge to find it has become a vacant box except for the ice cubes in the freezer. "I can make it though this" quickly becomes "How am I going to make it through this?"
Unfortunately, this is a position many college students find themselves in at some point due to the many expenses that come with paying for college and surviving while there. There is no plan that can absolutely guarantee this will never happen to you, however, there is one concept that, if put into practice, can help you make sure this hypothetical story does not become your reality. That concept is money management. For many college students this is a concept that is not understood until after a freshman year crisis like the one above, or even worse, an after graduation crisis. This does not have to happen to you, though. You do not have to face an empty bank account or refrigerator to learn how to manage your money. Rather, by learning how to mange your money early, you can avoid the behaviors and habits that lead to such crises while in college. The three things that all college students should understand when it comes to managing their money in college are:
- Frequent Purchases
- Infrequent Purchases
Frequent purchases are ironic little things. Ironic because most people constantly buy them and do not believe they make a big difference in their budget. Truth is, these small, frequent purchases are what most college students spend most of their money (not including financial aid) on. Small things like gas, take-out, groceries, flying home, clothing, and entertainment. The reason these small things trick many students is because they do not seem like much at the time of purchase. $40 dollars spent on clothes once every day of the week, is easily perceived as less than $280 spent on clothes one day out of the week. When you take into account all of the purchases where this effect can occur, the small things quickly add up to a large amount of money. For example, if a student buys take-out two times a week at $20, that adds up to $200 a month. Then add entertainment (movies, clubs, restaurants, bowling, etc) at $30 a week and you have $150 for the month. If this were your budget, you would have just spent $350 on take-out and entertainment for the month! In order to alleviate spending large amounts of money on small things over time, you have to keep track of all your purchases, no matter how small they are. Another way of spending less on small purchases is to find discounts and by shopping smart. If you have a roommate, then you could buy food for the dorm with them and you could split the costs of dorm items such as TV’s, mini-fridges, irons, ironing boards, etc. Another way of saving money is to utilize your meal plan as much as possible. Your school is going to get paid whether you choose to eat their food or not, so it is best to eat the food available in the dining hall rather than ordering take out. When buying clothing find places that offer college students discounts, or that have good sales. There are also stores that will buy your used clothes and give you cash for them. If you are buying things online, no matter what it is, always search for online coupon codes before purchasing because it could save you 15-50% on your purchase. The last frequent purchase where you could save a ton of money is airline tickets. Even if you only fly home two times out of the year, it could be ridiculously expensive. Buy your tickets as early as possible because it will be cheaper, pack light because baggage fees are steep, and check out AirTran U, which offers students between the ages of 18-22 huge discounts on flights all across America.
Infrequent purchases usually costs a lot more up front, which is the main reason they are infrequent. For college students these purchases usually include books, computers, printers, and summer storage for items too big to bring home. The best way to save on these items is pretty simple. Do your research on which stores or companies have the best price for what you need. When it comes to books, remember this one thing: Your campus bookstore will almost always inflate the prices of textbooks 40% or more, and they give small amounts of money if you want to sell your books back. Even the used textbooks at your campus bookstore will be expensive when compared to online resources. When shopping for a computer, price may not always be the thing you want to look at. If the computer is cheap, but it will break in a year, then it may not be the best buy. You should look for a computer that is in your budget but will also last all of your college years. Another way to save on computers is to look for online discounts, discounts specifically for students, and to buy your computer and printer as a bundle package. Summer storage can also be very expensive so it is best to do your research and find the best price.
The most important step in the process of saving money while in college is creating a budget and sticking to it. Create a spreadsheet that lists all of your income and expenses by category. Then set a cap for each expense so that you do not deplete your funds. Create on online sign in for your bank accounts so you can always stay abreast on what you have spent. Also, try to avoid overdraft fees by making sure your account never becomes negative and by only going to ATM machines that do not charge you fees for withdrawals. Remember that the small things add up to a lot of money when you are in college, so monitor and limit your frequent purchases, find ways to save on your infrequent purchases, and create a budget so that you always know where your money is and where it is going.
Derrius L Quarles is a 19-year-old freshman at Morehouse College. He hopes to go to medical school after he graduates with a degree in psychology and biology and a minor in public health, and to one day work on the public health policies of his hometown, Chicago, and beyond. To help him achieve those academic and career ambitions, Derrius has won more than $1.1 million in scholarships, including a full scholarship to attend Morehouse, since graduating from Chicago’s Kenwood Academy High School with a 4.2 GPA. Derrius was awarded a Gates Millennium scholarship and won a number of other highly competitive awards, many of which he found while searching for scholarships at Scholarships.com. He is the first in his family to attend college, and spent his childhood in the foster care system before becoming the “Million Dollar Scholar.” This is the sixth in a series of posts Derrius is writing for Scholarships.com on how he was able to fund his education, along with advice about the scholarship application process.
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