College is an amazing experience: you’re choosing a course of study and forging a unique path in life. And if you’re like many young adults, you’ll be making big decisions without the constant supervision of your parents. Chief among those decisions: your financial choices. As you’re hitting the books to earn your degree, make time to brush up on basic financial habits that will serve you well your whole life.
There’s no doubt about it: college costs are high and getting higher. It’s common to rely on a patchwork of funds for education and living expenses, including college savings plan proceeds, scholarships, grants, student loans, wages and family contributions.
To make sure your funds will go the distance, set up a monthly budget. Total all your income first. Then, start plugging in your fixed expenses (such as housing and tuition) as well as your flexible costs (such as utilities, food and gas). If your expenses exceed your income, consider making some adjustments by paring back expenses or by picking up some earnings, such as with a part-time job or extra shifts.
Be vigilant about tracking your expenses. Impulse buys and splurges can take a toll on your standard of living, particularly if you’re reduced to eating ramen for the last week of the month.
When you make money-saving moves a habit, graduating with a positive savings account balance is not as difficult as it seems. Small choices – like skipping that gourmet coffee every afternoon, or picking up used books rather than forking out for new – can leave a few extra dollars in your account for essentials, like rent or unexpected expenses.
If you’re working while attending college, try saving some of your paycheck each month to give yourself a cushion for emergencies. Likewise, if you have months in which your income outlasts your expenses, avoid blowing through the extra and set it aside instead. Essentially, you’re paying yourself first and establishing good habits for long-term planning. Once you start a career, this practice will help you save for big-ticket items that seem a long way off now, like a house or even retirement.
It takes maturity and discipline to use credit wisely. When considering a loan or a line of credit, such as a credit card, first, review the fine print on any offer to make sure you understand annual fees, minimum payments, grace periods, cash advances and interest rates. Then, compare offers and be selective in choosing a loan or line.
Once you receive a line of credit, use it only when necessary and stick to the payment schedule. Paying off your balance on time and in full each month will help avoid late fees and interest charges that add up quickly. If that’s not possible, at least make all your minimum payments on time to help establish a good credit record. Once you graduate and try to lease an apartment or buy a new car, your favorable credit history can give you a leg up.
If you’re using student loans to bridge a funding gap for school, select what’s necessary to fund tuition, not a lifestyle. Some lenders may approve loans for more than what you need, but keep your eye on the prize: your degree. Loans need to be repaid after graduation and your earning power will take some time to rev up, so think twice about taking on debt for perks like clubbing or traveling.
As you select loans for college, start forming a strategy for repayment after graduation. The type of loan you choose matters. For instance, federal student loans may allow you to consolidate or refinance loans, which could reduce interest rates or give you more time to repay. Private lenders may not offer those types of options and could cost you more in the end.
Developing good financial habits is well worth the time and effort. By keeping your finances under control during college, you’ll have greater confidence in managing your money once you’re flying solo and pursuing your dreams.
For more financial insights, guidance for students in college, and free financial planning resources, visit Regions.com/schoolyears.