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Practical Tips for Managing Expenses as a College Student


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May 01, 2023

This may well be the first time you have worked to a budget‌. When you don't have money, there is nothing to manage, but now you have some, it's probably just a lump sum which only goes one way: down, and what you must do is make sure it lasts as long as you need it to. Here are some tips for doing just that.

Set a Budget

Let's assume you've got your student loan and it's not a fortune. Your parents may or may not be giving you a few bucks too, but you've got a certain amount of money. What you need to do now is itemize what must be paid for: rent, food, phone including data package, books, and associated study materials. Make it a comprehensive list, so don't forget all the bathroom stuff.

See what that adds up to per month or per semester, then subtract it from the amount you will have to work with. What is left over is what's called disposable income, yours to do what you like with, and it will have to cover entertainment and social activities.

Bargain Hunt

Look for student discounts. Some restaurants like students and may give you a reduced rate on meals, because having you in there spending a little is better than not having you in there at all.

If you're going to have to travel a long way to get to college at the beginning of each semester and home at the end, see if there is some sort of student card. Also, within the town where you're going to be living, see if students or, say, people under 22 get free bus travel or subway passes. As for the books, can you get an online one, Kindle-style, and remember there are alternatives, or does it have to be a physical, printed book? If so, there may be used ones at college that you can buy cheap, helpfully bequeathed by former students who have been down this road before you.

A Piece of Plastic

Now, think about if you are going to be using cash or cards? Many things can only be done with a card, particularly online purchases, so this needs to be addressed. Credit card or debit card? The bank will have something to say about this, because you don't have a regular monthly income like you would if you had a job. With a debit card you can only spend what you've got, rather than going into further debt. If you feel ready to budget and manage your own money, there is always the option to take out your first credit card. It's a big step and you should review a guide on what credit cards are best for college students. Be sure to check the interest rates and repayment terms before making your final decision.

Live Smart

As a general life lesson which will serve you well from here on out, you're looking for bargains, savings, cheaper ways of doing things. It's not a matter of being a cheapskate or resigned to being poor, it's being smart. Look in the food store and see if there is a section where items are reduced because they're near their expiry date. There's typically wrong with them, they're not going to be dangerous, but the law says the store can't sell them after a certain date, and you can take advantage of that.


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About the author

Drew Allen

Drew is a financial enthusiast, seasoned blogger, music and sports fanatic. He enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife and daughter fishing and boating. He is dedicated to his 15+ year career in the banking, mortgage, and personal finance industry.

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