College life brings with it a limited budget and almost limitless free time.
There are plenty of hours to fill, but not a lot of spending money in your pockets. However, there are many resources at your fingertips which can make the experience affordable and enjoyable, allowing you to graduate with good spending habits and without debt.
Here are three tips to help you transition to college living while using your time, money and talents wisely.
1. Start Building Your Resume
Once graduation is over, it’s time to get working. Right after high school you have a whole summer to begin saving for the future. Jump right in and get some real life experience to put on your resume and learn what it’s like to have an income.
Once you start school, either reduce your hours to part-time or find another job that better suit your class schedule. For some students classwork can make employment tough, but this does not mean it’s time to quit working. Just working two shifts over the weekend will give you money to use for saving and spending.
There are a variety of jobs out there for you to try. Whether or not you want something social, like working on campus or something to start networking, or doing entry level work in your field, get started early. Even food service or retail jobs can be the stepping stones to learning leadership skills you will use in the future.
2. Evaluate Income and Spending
Putting together a budget requires accurately estimating how much income you have and what regular expenses you will owe. Determine the funds you have to work with by adding together the money you were given for graduation, any regular spending money your parents will provide and financial aid money that will go toward expenses and paychecks from working.
Even if your parents can’t afford much or checks from graduation are small, the money can be leveraged so that you have a cash safety net during college.
Use Microsoft Excel or another online budgeting application to create a budget that tracks the cost of books, cell phone bill and other personal items. Discuss with your parents early on the costs they will assume for you. Making a plan before it’s time to pay can prevent you from spending more than you can repay or taking out more than you need in student loans.
Open a student checking and saving account to receive discounted rates and track your spending to make sure you follow your budget. Start with at least $100 to open the savings account and then deposit some of your earnings every two weeks until you have $1,000. You can use the savings for major expenses such as flying home for winter break or making an emergency visit to the hospital after breaking in your leg in intramural soccer.
3. Manage Time Intentionally
Believe it or not, studying is a major way to save money, not to mention improve your grades and prepare you for a career. Putting a sizable portion of your time into study groups or planting yourself at the library utilizes this time to its greatest potential. Take the initiative to be a disciplined student and devote hours to your class work.
You may feel tempted to use these hours for fun events like shopping, going out to eat or paying for other entertainment. Limit your nights out to once or twice a week so that you are in control of your grades, but still able kick back and relax here and there.
Take advantage of the on-campus events sponsored by your school. After all, part of your tuition is going toward these activities, which are often free to you and accompanied with free food. This will help with immersing you in the community as well as saving you from spending money on other forms of entertainment.
College is a time to embrace many new things, but debt doesn’t have to be one of them. Make the most of your freshman year by working hard, sticking to your budget and hitting the books.
Alanna Ritchie is a content writer for Debt.org, where she writes about personal finance and little smart ways to spend (and save) money. Alanna has an English degree from Rollins College.