College is the first time that most young adults are genuinely required to be responsible with their finances. Sure, some may have had part-time jobs back in high school, but they were probably still living with their parents who handle most expenses. Learning the ins and outs of being responsible with finances can be tough. Here are some tips and tricks to make learning the ropes easier.
Keep Track of Everything You Spend
Some students make the mistake of making a budget and then forgetting about it. A budget does not work if you don’t compare your actual spending and income to your estimated spending and income. Don’t just throw away your receipts. Keep them so you can later write down exactly how much you spent and on what.
College students receive a lot of credit card offers in the mail. For those who haven’t already taken the jump and accepted one, ask yourself if you really need a credit card. Getting one can mean being tempted into unnecessary spending. If you still think you need one, make sure you only get one credit card. Not three. Not seven. Just one. When you get extra offers in the mail or are sent a card that you can activate, tear or shred the card and offer. You don’t want to risk someone trying to activate the card pretending to be you.
Organize Your Financial Papers
It is essential to keep your financial papers and receipts organized. Even the simplest organizational or filing system will do. Make sure you can easily find your financial aid documents. If you have college loans, keep all of the loan documents together in a place that you can find them. If you receive monthly statements in the mail from a bank, put them in a folder after you have reviewed them. The same thing goes for your receipts. If you are going to throw something out, whether it is old bank statements or even just a check you ended up not using because you misspelled a name, tear it up or shred it before putting it in the trash.
Consider using a personal financial management tool like Finovera (Finovera.com) which can download and store financial statements and bills automatically and can also be a repository for important documents.
Open a Bank Account
If you haven’t done so already, open a bank account. Carrying all of your cash in your wallet or stuffing it in your mattress is a bad idea. You will have to decide whether you want a checking account or a savings account or maybe both. If you work, you need somewhere to store your money. Before opening an account at the closest bank, shop around a bit. There are often several banks in a given area, and not all banks are created equal. Some will have much higher minimum required balances than others. Some will charge a monthly or yearly fee to have a checking account or debit card. Find a bank that fits your needs.
Apply for Scholarships
There are a lot more scholarship out there than most students realize. Some students mistakenly believe that scholarships are only for freshmen, but this is far from the truth. There are many scholarship open to college students of all kinds. Many schools have an online database of all the scholarships offered at the school or in the area. Go through it and make a note of every scholarship you qualify for. Oftentimes, very few students apply to certain scholarships. Sometimes you may be the only one applying to one of them. Even if you don’t perfectly fit what they are looking for, if there is no one else to give the money to then it’s usually yours.
Many places have student discounts. They may be small discounts like 5 percent off a smoothie, but those discounts add up over the course of your time in college. Don’t miss out. Someone at your school, the administrator who gave you your student ID, for example, might be able to point out some of the benefits of carrying it with you. Take advantage of student discounts whenever possible.
With these tips, students will not only be keeping track of their finances, but will be saving money, too. Some advice is simply about being organized, but you can’t have financial planning without knowing the state of your finances.
Image Source: 401K (2013) on Flickr