Money management tips for college students

Kirsten Rivera works in Community Development in the banking and finance industry. She holds a Bachelor’s of Business Administration in Operations and Technology Management from the University of Portland.

College can be an enriching experience for many young adults. But don’t think that being a full-time student means that you’re immune to financial woes. Take these four years to learn the ropes of personal finance. Making, saving, and protecting your money now could put you ahead of the rest of the pack later on.

1. Research which financial institutions have branches and ATMs near your campus.

It’s amazing what people are willing to pay for convenience. Unfortunately for many students, opting for convenience can get pricey if you don’t do your research beforehand.

Unless your campus is in a metropolitan area, you may have some trouble getting to a branch or ATM. My university only had one ATM on campus, which was owned and operated by a national bank. If a student didn’t hold an account with that bank, they had to pay a $5 out-of-network fee to withdraw, transfer, or inquire on their money. Depending on your bank and account type, you may pay two fees: one from the ATM’s institution AND one from your institution!

Check in with your college/university to see what ATMs are on campus, see which financial institutions are nearby, and have a chat with your bank to see if they can waive those pesky out-of-network fees while you’re in school. Many banks and credit unions offer student or college checking accounts that have extra perks, one of which could be a fee waiver!

2. Go Dutch on dining.

College students – especially those living in dorms – find themselves eating out a lot. While going out with friends after a long day in class can be fun, it can also eat at your wallet. And if you’re anything like I was, you’ll sometimes want to foot the bill for the entire table. This might be a good idea if you’re on a date, but not always. My advice: pay for what you bought, leave a nice tip, and let your friends do the same.

As an aside, if one of your friends offers to pay for your meal, let them! It’s an unwritten rule that college student shall not pass up a free meal, free concert, or free t-shirt.

3. Keep an eye out for student discounts.

Being a student has a lot of perks. Now is the time to take advantage of them! Many colleges and universities will partner with local and national businesses to offer student discounts on things from presentation materials to car rentals. For the most part, you’ll just have to present your student ID to receive the discount. Some schools even have their own discount cards to use with local partners!

A good rule to live by is this: the closer to campus, the more likely they’ll offer a discount. Discounts worth looking into are student transit passes, gym memberships, bank or credit union accounts (remember #1!) and your go-to pizza places and coffee shops. If a business doesn’t advertise a student discount, it never hurts to ask! My favorite coffee place started offering 2-for-1 punches on their “frequent sippers” punch cards to students after I asked about it!

4. Be aware of ALL the costs of off-campus rentals.

We all know that rent and utilities are two costs you’ll have to deal with. Depending on where you rent and what kind of property you rent, some or all of your utilities will be included in the cost of rent (apartments tend to cover trash and sewage; houses, especially from owners, usually only cover trash). But don’t be fooled; this is only part of what you’ll spend to rent a property.

Here’s a short (and incomplete!) checklist of things you’ll want to account for when budgeting:

• Renter’s insurance
• Deposits (usually first and last month’s rent, up-front)
• Furniture
• Cleaning supplies
• Bedding
• Food (it costs a lot to stock a pantry and fridge)
• Dishes
• Toiletries
• Storage

If you’re looking into renting a place while you’re in college, check online for some comprehensive move-in checklists. And be prepared to miss something, because it almost always happens.

5. Stay involved on campus.

This one doesn’t seem like a financial tip, but getting involved in student clubs and organizations on campus can actually save you a lot of money in the long run.

Here’s a story to prove it:
My friend decided to join the campus programming board at our school. One program they had was a free coffee and Italian ice night in the student union building. My friend decided to volunteer with the program, serving free caffeinated beverages to the masses. As a result, she also got a couple free drinks every night. Because she was doing this, she was able to abstain from her daily coffee fix that day. So, every week she saved herself a trip to the coffee shop, where she would have spent around $3.50 for her 16-ounce non-fat white chocolate mocha. There are about 15 weeks in a semester, so she saved $52.50 every semester, coming out to $420 over the course of 8 semesters!

Keeping yourself occupied will invariably keep you from spending. Another plus is that staying involved in campus life will keep you in the loop on free events, free gear, and free food. Clubs and organizations on campus are also a great place to score free excused-absence vacations; I was able to go on two free weekend trips to the beach while I was a member of a student club!

College is a wonderful, if expensive time in a young person’s life. Have fun and be adventurous, but remember to live within your means and save whenever and wherever you can. As my dad would say, “Saving pennies becomes saving dollars, and saving dollars becomes extra toppings on your pizza. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”

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