Heading into the school year is an exciting time, but it also can be the first time incoming college students are experiencing financial independence. Without a plan in place, that money worked for over the summer can quickly dwindle away.
Connie Spires, PNC branch manager on a university campus, sees the many struggles students can experience when they go to school without a financial plan. “Lack of planning is the biggest miss among most college freshmen. They spend money as they have it versus mapping a plan for how they will make their money last throughout the semester,” Spires says.
Spires suggests following these “freshman 15” tips to help make sure you’re financially fit heading into the school year.
Talk to your parents or a trusted financial mentor - While financial and social freedom is great, don’t forget to ask your parents for their insight on how to budget and prepare for this exciting time.
Track your spending - Keep a diary of your spending for one month and look at what expenses you might be able to eliminate. Your daily coffee runs add up over time and could mean missing out on an experience with friends down the road.
Save for a rainy day - Having a few extra dollars in your budget at the end of the month may feel like a good time to treat yourself. Be sure to put some of that away for unexpected expenses that will inevitably arise.
Pick up a part-time job - When investing in your education, school comes first. However, if your schedule allows, look around campus for a part-time job that won’t disrupt your studies.
Cook whenever possible - Get in the habit of stocking your fridge at the beginning of each week. You’ll be less tempted to stop for lunch when you know you have groceries at home.
Shop around - College bookstores are great, but aren’t always the most budget-friendly option. Check online to see if you can find your textbooks for less or, even better, second hand.
Use on-campus financial resources - Many on-campus banks offer customized products and services for students. Learn more about PNC’s Student Banking.
Prepare for recurring expenses – Plan your spending around bills or recurring expenses you know you’ll owe. PNC’s Virtual Wallet Student® includes tools like a calendar view of your expenses and even helps you pace your spending by categorizing your purchases and comparing them to your set budget.
Opt for automatic payments - Automatic payments may help you avoid pesky late fees, which can add up quickly.
Use credit wisely - Cards can come with hefty fees and interest rates if you don’t pay your balance in full each month, so ask yourself whether an expense is a need or a want before charging it.
Learn to say no - Going out with friends every weekend can add up quickly. Everyone has a different budget and financial situation. Don’t be afraid to say no to a night out if it’s not in the budget this time. Your friends may be just as happy to have a night in.
Only take out student loans for absolute necessities—such as tuition, rent and books - Don’t tap into your loans for social spending. It is never a good idea to go into debt for unnecessary spending.
Apply for as many scholarships as you can - You can save a lot of money with scholarships. Check online and with your college department to see what grants or scholarships are available. While some scholarships may be small, they add up.
Take advantage of on-campus savings - Whether it be a meal plan or just using student discounts around campus, make sure you’re making the most of your money. Some stores off-campus may even offer discounts with a college ID.
Ask for help - Many universities and university banks offer guidance and planning tools specific to a student’s needs. Check your school’s website for free seminars or resource guides.
Learn how to prepare for financial responsibilities in college »
“To prepare for financial independence in college, create a spending plan for yourself and see if you are able to stick with it. Learn how to prioritize what is important to you.”
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