College life often times comes to us with a multitude of new forms of freedom. Many of us will have a car to take us anywhere we wish, whenever we want. We are likely to be living away from our parents supervision, and we’ll probably have a credit card or two to buy what we want, when we want it. In many ways, this may be a dream come true after the relatively strict existence of living at home as kids.

A car, an apartment, and credit cards are all significant responsibilities, especially to the uninitiated recent high school graduate or college freshman. What car salesmen and bank clerks do not tell you when you put your signature down is that these things are not tools of freedom but are actually very unforgiving exercises in self-discipline.

In high school most of us were prevented from going off slippery slopes of all kinds but in college we are truly on our own. Car repairs can quickly mount, an instant on the cell phone can lead to a car collision worth several thousand dollars and potentially very serious injuries or worse. The urge to join good friends on a well-deserved spring break vacation can suddenly put a sobering bill in our mail upon our return. Such bill may easily snowball out of control by the end of the summer if you went for an unpaid internship instead of a summer job. Before long you are starting the fall semester with a debt worth thousands in addition to the usual student loans.

The key here is to maintain mindfulness of the ins and outs in such a way that it happens almost automatically. The best way to do this is by keeping a strict budget on a weekly and monthly basis, foresee extra expenses such as vacations, and brutally cut out extraneous expenses as soon as they are spotted. In other words, if your car is bleeding you money and you can live without it then take action quickly and put it up for sale. Instead of a credit card, consider using a debit card that only allows you to use money you have. Students are experts at finding good deals on gas, food and other regular and necessary expenses so tap into your social network to find where the real deals are. If you have friends with especially expensive habits then propose to them to join you on more affordable endeavors such as a wine and cheese party at home or a weekend hike at a local trail.

Never forget to live within your means. It will keep your money in your pocket for what you want and away from paying the college education bankers’ kids everywhere.

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