My Financial Decisions as an Undergrad

Prom dresses have started to appear in the windows of downtown department stores, signaling that in the next few months, another crop of seniors will be heading off to college. By now, the ones on their game have kept the grades up, participated in extra-curricular activities, researched the value of a college education and the best-value colleges, applied for scholarships, and found a good deal on housing.

Still, a whole new world of financial responsibility awaits them. I thought I'd share some of the best (and worst) financial decisions I made as an undergrad.

Find a good place to put your money.
One of the first things I did was join a local credit union, instead of one the big banks that setup tables on campus and offered free checking accounts, t-shirts, and laundry bags that read “off to a clean start.” By joining a credit union, I avoided overdraft fees. (One of the big banks handed out a card to new customers that said “sh*t happens.” It was a get-out-of-jail-free card for your first overdraft fee.)

Marketed toward college students, these banks prey on low-income (or no-income) accounts to gain profits from overdraft fees. I didn't want to bank with anyone who took it as a given that I would overdraft. Instead, my credit union helped me to establish a solid financial future and gave me the tools to start. (I've also heard great things about online banks.)

Money is in the bank. Great. Now what?
I didn't get a credit card, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Again, on registration day, there were lots of people behind tables saying that they were there to help me. But they're there to make money and that's it.

Not signing up for a card meant two things:

  • I didn't incur any debt on top of my school loans. Unless I had cash, I didn't buy the new iPod or the concert tickets or pick up the check for the pizzas.
  • I paid all my bills on time. Once I moved off campus for a better deal on housing, I had electricity, utilities, and Internet to pay.

My roommates were terrible at mailing off the bills, so I took on the job myself and avoided the late fees. (As far as how to collect their share after the bills are paid? Try online tools.)

Minimize school-related costs.
I didn't buy used textbooks, and I regretted it. I'm a book hoarder and told myself that new textbooks would last as reference guides until my wrinkly years, when I might rekindle my curiosity about post-developmental structures in formerly colonized sub-Saharan Africa.

By the end of the semester, I wanted so badly to rid myself of the books that I sold them all back to the bookstore for a fraction of the purchase price, and probably would have gotten the same sell-back price had I purchased them used.

Hauling books back and forth also was tough because I didn't own a car, and I recommend college kids do the same. Insurance, parking, gas, and upkeep of a car are expenses and stress that college kids just don't need. Use public transportation or find a friend with a car. Plus, cars usually take us to places to spend money. The mall empties your wallet whereas campus events are usually free. Take advantage of them. (Often campus committees pay for outside bands, even big names. I still remember hanging out with Regina Spektor on the campus lawn after her free concert.)

Take responsibility for yourself.
My roommate didn't know how to make pasta. He bought his food from the campus cafeteria, ate more bowls of Cocoa Dyno-Bites than any human should, and once washed all his laundry, forgot to dry it, and left it rotting under his bed for weeks. Mommy's not there anymore, Josh.

Yes, he is an extreme example, but a lot of kids head off to school and wind up blowing off class, partying too hard, and letting their health suffer. While college life has its share of temptations, I'd give a high school grad the following advice:

  • Stay active. We've all heard about the “freshman 15,” but it's not a forgone conclusion. Every college will have a gym, and most come with free fitness classes. Keep your body moving and your brain will thank you. (Plus, if you don't have a car, you'll be walking around campus to get from classroom to classroom. I always gave myself the extra 10 minutes to take the long route, or the one up the hill.)
  • Go to class. My friend Cory calculated that if you were paying full tuition, it cost 10 cents a minute just to breathe on campus. I've heard of students calculating their per-class cost, seeing that ditching class throws away hundreds of dollars. I don't recommend weighing yourself down with those kind of numbers. Everyone misses class sometimes, but you're there to learn, not only the information offered in class, but also a discipline that will follow you the rest of your life.
  • Avoid hangovers. Beer is expensive, and so are cigarettes and illicit drugs. Plus, they can seriously get in the way of your schoolwork. This isn't to say you have to be a teetotaler, Friday night can still be a Friday night, but Friday night shouldn't be, you know, Monday night, too. Set limits.
  • Put good stuff in your body. Often, on-campus food is expensive and low quality. I didn't pay for the meal plan, even though they told me it was a requirement for freshman and would save thousands. Learning to eat well on a small budget is one of the most important lessons I learned in college. Basic cooking skills go a long way.

In other words, there will be late-night pizza orders and Red Bull-sponsored parties, but don't forget to eat a salad, go for a run, and show up to class on Monday morning.

Work your way through school.
I got jobs that gave me time to do my homework. I worked in the gym handing out towels and basketballs, which allowed to me to read. I worked as a late night “security guard” in the music building that gave me Wi-Fi and zero responsibilities other than to stay awake. I worked at a small tea house on campus which quieted down during class times, again, giving me a chance to devour a few more chapters.

And these jobs gave me some income. I always tried to make more money than I spent. When my income would drop, my spending would follow. Another idea is to become a mini-entrepreneur. Computer repair or even well-placed baked goods can go over really well on college campuses.

Undergrad was my first chance to be independent. If you're off to college soon, realize that you'll come up short sometimes. You'll make missteps. You'll be the wiser for it. So subscribe to the GRS feed, ask questions, and check out money books written for college kids. It's common for new college grads to move back home, but if that's not your life plan, start learning to navigate your financial life now.

[Note: I thought I'd clarify the statement I made about credit unions and overdraft fees. An adviser with the credit union sat down with me and very clearly explained my options. I opted to skip overdraft protection and the ability to overdraft at all, instead I'd just have my card rejected if I ever tried to withdraw more than what was in my account. I'm sure this is available with bigger banks, as well, it's just that the adviser sitting down with me made all the difference. At the time, for me, it was the best choice. After college, I opened an account with a large bank, and it wasn't a great experience.]

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sarah
sarah
8 years ago

I think you mean “purist.” But, more importantly, what credit union doesn’t charge overdraft fees?

April Dykman
8 years ago
Reply to  sarah

Thanks for catching that, Sarah!

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  sarah

Sorry, no. You’re missing the colloquial tone and the humor of Tim’s comment. A purist is a kind of essentialist in matters of language or taste– a “total pure” on the other hand is someone who is exceedingly innocent, virginal and toxin-free. See for example the famous “purity test” http://www.armory.com/tests/100.html

Someone who’s “pure” would avoid booze on Fridays (or any other day). A purist would get wasted, but would do so only on single-malt scotch.

April Dykman
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

After consulting a few sources, the accepted use for “purest” is as a superlative of pure, an adjective. I know, I know. I’m such a purist. 😉

I can’t find any sources that mention using “purest” as a noun, so while I see your point, to most readers it’s confusing (or they see it as a typo) and the meaning is lost. I think “a total pure” would have been one solution, but I have a feeling a lot of people wouldn’t have known what that meant without some explanation.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

“Total purest” would be a hyperbole, and therefore funnier. No wonder I laughed when I read it unedited this morning!

“Total purist” makes no sense at all in this context. Sure, the syntax agrees, but semantically it makes no sense at all. Purist doesn’t mean abstemious, celibate or straight-edge. E.g.: http://evewine101.com/2011/02/25/russian-and-polish-vodka-tasting-for-purists-bacon-vodka-for-fun/

Sorry ma’am, but you killed a joke. :'(

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

Yay! Word games that stretch language!

Shakespeare would be proud.

sarah
sarah
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Now I’m dying to know if he meant it the way you think he did.

I also thought “purist” was the wrong word for what he meant, but figured correcting someone’s spelling was annyoing enough for one post…

April Dykman
8 years ago
Reply to  sarah

Sigh. Okay, I can’t think up an acceptable solution. I get what El Nerdo is saying, but I think using “purest” as a noun is going to lose a lot of people who don’t have that background info. So I’m leaving it like it is until/unless Tim clarifies and proposes another solution.

I love word nerd discussions. 🙂

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  sarah

Ha ha, I realize now that all this happened in my head. My brain, that rascal, has been known to rearrange things for its own amusement.

And I love word nerd discussions too!

Anyway thanks for the chance to procrastinate this morning.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
8 years ago
Reply to  sarah

None of the given solutions make any sense. Just change it to “teetotaler” or something that people will understand.

April Dykman
8 years ago

Tyler wins!

I’m afraid being right has to be its own reward. 😉

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

“teetotaler” = XIX century

“straight edge” = 1981
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dctcVopIFjI

“total purest” = 2012!!!!! 😀

April Dykman
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

Ha! Let’s submit this to Merriam-Webster.

BlueCollarWorkman
BlueCollarWorkman
8 years ago

My sister went to college and had an on campus job. From hearing her talk, college can be intensely stressful, and to this day she was always grateful that our mother handled all the college finances and worries until my sister graduated. My sister had a little debt, but wasn’t buried in it, and she only later learned how much money that on campus job saved her in later debt. Mom told my sister to get a credit card, but only put 1 bottle of Snapple on it a month. It’s important to build credit early, and my mom made… Read more »

Jessica
Jessica
8 years ago

I did the used books, shared books with my friends who were in the same classes, moved off campus when I could, didn’t have a car, shopped the thrifts and learned how to coupon and scavenged by dumpsters on move-out day. I also participated in psych experiments to earn extra $$ in addition to my work-study job. Some of those experiments would pay $10 for a 40 minute study, while there was one I did that paid a few hundred for me coming in once a day for 4 weeks, about 10 minutes a day. But you had to be… Read more »

Lauren {Adventures in Flip Flops}
Lauren {Adventures in Flip Flops}
8 years ago

Can I also add to sit down with a financial aid person and ask lots of questions. I didn’t and now have more loans than I should have.

Knowing what I know now, I could have saved myself THOUSANDS of dollars. Live and learn.

Sara
Sara
8 years ago

I agree. I thought getting offered more in student loans was a good thing — then you could be totally comfortable while in school. Obviously now I realize that I should have accepted only as much aid as I actually needed to get by. I wasn’t duped or anything — I just didn’t realize the implications. If someone had talked me through the bigger picture, I would have trimmed back the amount I took in loans.

Tie the Money Knot
Tie the Money Knot
8 years ago

Absolutely the biggest thing for me was taking responsibility for myself – meaning I’m glad I did.

A few people I knew made some very questionable financial moves at the time, particularly involving credit cards and using them as an easy source of money without regard for the consequences. I’m thankful that I somehow avoided that and never carried any consumer debt. Maybe I was too busy with school and having fun at the time!

Kim
Kim
8 years ago

I graduated this past May with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. If you are in a field such as engineering, you can get summer internships that pay well and avoid working during the school year (I tried it once and found it did not mesh well with a heavy, technical course load including multiple labs). In one summer I made over $9000 + housing stipend to work for a major manufacturing company. I think the best thing you can do for yourself monetarily in college is major in a useful subject or get a minor in one (e.g. computer science).… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago

I second the staying active part 🙂 My university offered free swimming, free access to fitness equipment and cheap fitness classes. (Another bonus: these classes were run by students, so they’re job opportunities for someone.) Many of my friends were involved with extracurricular sports as well.

There are also great free or cheap resources in the community. My university town had great walking trails — if only I’d known I could download a map for free online!

(My apologies if this is a duplicate comment — the comment gremlins keep sending me error messages. Is anyone else having this problem?)

stellamarina
stellamarina
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

I live near the college I graduated from many years ago. With my alumni card that costs me $15 a year, I get to use the pool and gym area for free as well as the library. So those college perks can go on into old age.

Kraig @ Young, Cheap Living
Kraig @ Young, Cheap Living
8 years ago

That is some solid advice for making it through college. I’m about five years post college and if there is one thing I would advise young people entering college later this year on it’s to be very careful about your student loans. I was lucky to have chose a community college my first two years that saved me tens of thousands of dollars. I’m not saying everyone needs to do that, but just be aware of how much your education will cost at each college you could attend. Also, who is paying for it? If you will be taking on… Read more »

WorkSaveLive
WorkSaveLive
8 years ago

Great article! I don’t know about the whole credit union not charging fees thing but the rest of it is great!

It’s so important to learn how to cook on your own and it’s VERY important for students to work their way through school.

Statistics prove that students who work 20+ hours/week have a higher GPA than the students who don’t.

John R
John R
8 years ago
Reply to  WorkSaveLive

Please don’t spout out statistics without a citation. I don’t know many people who would have been able to work 20+ hours a week and get a good GPA while getting a degree in engineering unless you were only taking 12 credit hours a semester. I never took less than 16 a semester so that I could graduate in 4 years.

Mark
Mark
8 years ago
Reply to  John R

It’s possible, I’ve done it.

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  WorkSaveLive

clearly you weren’t a statistics major, or you wouldn’t be saying that they *prove* anything
There is somethign to be said for finishing on time – if you are an engineering student – every extra year it takes you to graduate costs you about 50K in salary (not to mention the extra tuition) – I find it hard to believe that minimum wage job at 20hrs per week would come close to that

April Dykman
8 years ago

A few of you have pointed out the thing about credit unions and fees. I’m hoping Tim will clarify what he meant (or where he banks!) in the comments or an added note in the post. Thanks for bringing it up.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

Nowadays you can opt out of overdrafts in every bank, but beware that uncleared electronic bill pay/e-checks will not be stopped by this, only debits at a ATMs or points of sale.

Audrey
Audrey
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

My credit union I had growing up provided free overdraft protection *if* you had money in a savings account to cover it. Well, now that I think about it, was it free? If it cost anything, it was a dollar if I could cover the expense. Way cheaper than overdraft fees. And I think some banks do this now (and some with a credit card instead of savings), but I think their is a monthly fee for the “protection”, even if you don’t use it.

Leah
Leah
8 years ago
Reply to  Audrey

How nice! My bank called a similar thing “overdraft protection,” but it’s really that they only charged me $20 for going over and then shifted money from my savings account. I think I overdrafted twice as a teenager and once in college before I realized that was daft.

I really appreciate my mom, who explained that the pennies I might earn in interest would quickly be wiped out by one fee. I now keep a minimum of $1,000 in my checking account. In high school, I never spent money if my checking account dipped below $100.

RBR
RBR
8 years ago

I agree with everything said, except about books. I decided early on that I would buy NEW books for the classes I loved and would need in my future, and USED for the classes I didn’t really care about. Since I have a habit of making my text books appear more as abstract art with my highlighters, it was important to have a fresh canvas. My one regret is I didn’t sell ANY of my books back. for the most that I am okay with it, as I still reference my college text books on a regular basis, but there… Read more »

Sara
Sara
8 years ago
Reply to  RBR

I agree with this new/used book concept, but the student should probably err on the side that they will not look at the text again. I bought almost all new books because I wanted a blank slate for me to highlight/notate. And I did not sell any back with the idea that I might need to refer back to them later. Also, I had paid a lot of money (many were science textbooks that go for $150+), and did not like that I would be losing a lot in selling back; unfortunately, I did not recognize the concept of sunk… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
8 years ago
Reply to  RBR

Also, used textbooks are a great way to save money, but don’t count on buying used and then selling them off again when making up your budget unless you know for a fact that the profs always use the same textbooks and used will be available. I wanted to buy used during my undergrad but, for many courses, there would be a new edition of the text every year, or the prof would change their text so last year’s books were not helpful. This was frustrating for both buyers and sellers. Also, if you’re studying obscure subjects in small departments,… Read more »

Ellen
Ellen
8 years ago

I must admit – I’m amazed at Tim’s self discipline and planning at that age. I was good about money and not going into debt, but I sure enjoyed the food and definitely put on the Freshman 15! I took a co-op program (4 months working, 4 months school, etc.) and it really helped both with experience and money. I highly recommend them!

Kio
Kio
8 years ago

Great post!

My freshman year I bought (used) books at the campus bookstore, and then sold them back at the end of the year. I think I ended up getting like 5% of the money back, and I was so mad!

Over the summer, my friend told me about half.com. On this site you could buy used text books for significantly less than the campus bookstore. On top of that, you can post your own used books to sell! I usually made enough money each semester to cover 60-70% of the cost of my next semester’s books.

Amber
Amber
8 years ago

Tim, I’m not sure how you were allowed or why you would choose to live off campus on your first year. After that, go out into the world of off-campus housing. but you will do so with your new-found dorm-mates i.e. automatic dining companions and possible long-time friends. The freshman year bonding experience is so key to getting through that first year and sets you up for greater success in the years to come.

Kevin @ Thousandaire.com
Kevin @ Thousandaire.com
8 years ago

Start a business while in college. I started my “writing career” in college and have been making side income writing ever since. You have so much free time in college, you might as well start earning some extra money on the side.

MikeTheRed
MikeTheRed
8 years ago

One thing I would highly recommend for ANYONE in college is to look at taking courses during summer semesters. No, this isn’t necessarily a “frugal” tip, but it can make the rest of the academic year a LOT less stressful. I pushed a lot of my general education requirements into summer sessions. This allowed me to take lighter course loads during the rest of the year AND graduate early. Plus, the reduced workload let me maintain part-time employment through all of college. In the end, between taking one less full semester, and being able to work 20hrs/week through the fall… Read more »

Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
8 years ago
Reply to  MikeTheRed

That’s great advice, Mike. We’re accustomed to thinking of college as a 4-year journey, but that’s not set in stone. If you can knock off one semester, or even a year, that can save you a bunch of money. I took extra courses some semesters, which wasn’t bad, and my senior spring was great (3 classes, no requirements needed). Still, I wish I had had your drive and sense when I was in college. I could have done more, and it wouldn’t have involved much sacrifice at all.

Jennifer Gwennifer
Jennifer Gwennifer
8 years ago
Reply to  MikeTheRed

I totally agree. I only took one course a summer but it definitely helped to squeeze a double major into only 4.5 years. I took general microbiology (300-level) in 5 weeks one summer, and it was two hours of lecture every day and two three-hour labs a week. I found out from other students that the workload for the summer course was less (the final project was smaller) because they had to cram so much into those 5 weeks, so it did have its advantages. One caveat about summer courses is choosing ones with the format that works best for… Read more »

Sharon
Sharon
8 years ago

A lesser workload also means less opportunity to learn, though.

Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
8 years ago

God I wish I had read this back in 2004 (or something like it). Not that I would have listened or cared back then, but this is such great advice. The hangovers killed me (no drugs). I didn’t spend wisely at all. I ate healthy (or what i thought was healthy), but that was the only smart thing I did. Looking back at college and my mistakes has been helpful in making sure I do better in the future. Another thing: picking your major. If you’re going to graduate with $80K in student loans, then it might not be the… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago

As someone who has not one but TWO degrees in History, I concur. 🙂 I wish someone, sometime, had actually sat me down and talked to me about what I was really interested in doing for the next 20-30 years and how I could use my time in college to facilitate that. History was a great education per se, but not great career prep. It helped me get a job as a file clerk in a law office, which has grown into a 20+ year career in legal support. Easy work, stable, good pay and benefits, but not exactly the… Read more »

average guy
average guy
8 years ago
Reply to  chacha1

my sister is a lawyer. i once asked her why she became a lawyer. she said it was because she has a degree in History… law school was the only place that would accept her. they accepted only people with a degree: it didn’t matter in what subject, as long as you had a degree.

(that was many years ago when law school was cheap…)

fantasma
fantasma
8 years ago

Right on time for a soon to be high school grad.

Sara
Sara
8 years ago

As an undergrad I used to figure that anything over 12 credits was basically “free” since the full time tuition rated covered 12 credits and above. I had semesters when I took 18 or 21 credits. ALthough I was also working part-time, I still managed to get straight As, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you are not very disciplined. Carrying large credit loads can help you graduate early or take a second major or just explore other options. One semester I took a senior lit seminar meant for English majors although my field was psych. It was a lot… Read more »

Sleeping Mom
Sleeping Mom
8 years ago

The dumbest financial move I ever made in college was to take out a $4k loan to buy a computer and to give me extra pocket money. Here’s the thing: I actually got a scholarship to go to college so I didn’t even need a ton of cash, but here’s really the first dumbest thing I did: I didn’t fill out the financial papers in properly so that I put down that I lived “off campus” when I really lived “on campus.” Since the scholarship and financial aid folks thought I was living back home, I ended up receiving less… Read more »

Bethy
Bethy
8 years ago

I’m wondering about those students who waited a year or two before going to college and worked instead. I’d guess that gross roommate “Josh” could have benefited from a bit of time in the workforce before heading to college. I took a year between college and grad school and worked. It gave me a nice little savings fund for expenses not covered by my TAship, and helped me gain some experience.

Jason
Jason
8 years ago

I don’t want to sound completely negative about this artice becuase there are many good points to take from it, and the concept is what matters more than the details. But… 1. Many schools don’t buy back previously used books. ie, they’ll buy back books new from that semester only. (although you could probably find a way to cheat the system) 2. Getting a job when you have 4+ hours of homework a day is generally not a valid solution. I was an electrical engineering student and literally had to study and write lab reports for 30-40 hours a week.… Read more »

Ru
Ru
8 years ago

I’m an undergrad right now- second year on a 3 year BA course, studying Ceramic Design at Central St Martins. Here’s my advice: -ignore as much of the kit list as you possibly can. This applies to books, laptops, tools etc. If I had bought everything on the list they gave me, which included a top spec MacBook and a DSLR, I would have been about £3000 in the hole. I did buy everything on the tools list and have ended up replacing most of it or never using it- for example, the callipers they told us to buy were… Read more »

bareheadedwoman
bareheadedwoman
8 years ago

Parents paid for tuition and room right out of high school (my college required freshmen and sophomores to live on campus) but nothing else. No food plan. I went into the year with $1000 saved (back in the day the amount was more impressive) from my H.S. jobs and got a pittance for working on the college paper which was a big deal for that school. But I could feed myself (barely) on the pay and what’s more, got free tickets for everything as well as backstage passes for visiting groups etc. A lot of stuff was free with a… Read more »

Ryan H.
Ryan H.
8 years ago

Great article. I wish I knew most of this stuff when I was first starting out in college. Textbooks are so overpriced these days. I became a fan of amazon.com’s textbook section. I reduced my textbook expense by at least $400 every year.

Cory
Cory
8 years ago

If possible work at a restaurant. I saved a lot of money working at a small family owned pizza joint when I was in college. They rarely made us pay for meals. I also worked hard for them for 5 years becoming management and putting experience and a reference on my resume that helped get me hired in the depths of the recession.

Christa
Christa
8 years ago

Your undergrad story sounds a lot like mine. I took on loans, but then I worked my but off at a part-time, 30-hour per week job to meet my living expenses. I also walked everywhere, but I did own a car to get to my workplace. I could have probably gotten by without one, but I appreciated the freedom my little beater car afforded me when needed (especially in downpours on the way to class!)

Sarah
Sarah
8 years ago

This article has some great advice in it and is worth considering by any soon-to-be student. One thing about the working on campus point though: make sure that if you plan to work on campus you investigate their policies regarding hiring students. At both universities I went to, you had to be able to prove financial need (you had to be at school on government student loans) in order to be eligible for most campus jobs. If you’re financing your education by other means, on campus jobs may not be open to you regardless of how hard a worker you… Read more »

Chris
Chris
8 years ago

Ahh, the good days of college! This is great advice, just wish that the internet was around when I was planning for college.

stellamarina
stellamarina
8 years ago

One suggestion that I have mentioned before. If you know how to cut hair or even just buzz cut….take a pair of hair clippers with you to college and set up a hair cutting business in your dorm.

Brendan
Brendan
8 years ago

If I could go back and talk to myself when I was in college! The things I would tell myself! I’m teaching my children, at a very young age, how money works. I hope when they go off to college that they have the skills to stay away from the debt I incurred and spent years trying to learn how to get from under. Great post!
Brendan
themoneybeast.blogspot.com

Joe
Joe
8 years ago

You don’t need to work another job in university to be financially responsible. I worked really hard in highschool and then in university at my real job – being a student. I always had a 90%+ average and scored massive scholarships heading into first year, and every year thereafter. This wasn’t lucky and it took a lot of hard work – it was just very strategic. And yes, I could afford both the time and money to rest at least a day a week; that’s a luxury not afforded by 3 simultaneous part-time burger flipping jobs.

Bryce
Bryce
8 years ago

I am also a member of a credit union. I believe since I’ve become a member many years ago I have over-drafted my account three times. Each time they refunded the over-draft fee.Definitely the way to go as far as banking is concerned.

Cindy
Cindy
8 years ago

As a college professor, I cringe at the regular advice to work so much while in school. In my experience, way too many of my students spend too much time working and not enough time doing homework and studying. In the end, they pay more to take classes over and over again that they failed. A full-time course load is really a full-time job. If you major in math or science, it is 1-1/2 times as much work. The “reading a bit here and there” does not cut it in those majors. You have to spend large blocks of time… Read more »

Amber
Amber
8 years ago
Reply to  Cindy

In addition your final GPA can matter for your career. So many people say it doesn’t matter as long as you pass but GPA was taken into account when I was hired and I actually received a higher starting salary than others because of it.

Ben
Ben
8 years ago

A couple things to add.

Book: Books from Amazon/ebay/etc can be a lot cheaper at times than used books from the school book store. I remember buying international versions of some of my textbooks for 20-30% of what the university bookstore charged.

Housing: off-campus is typically much, much cheaper. Can’t stress that enough.

Jobs: Library jobs are king of campus jobs.

Leah
Leah
8 years ago
Reply to  Ben

I lived in campus all four years of college (the last two in college-owned apartments). My friends always said “but off campus is cheaper.” I encouraged everyone to sit down and do the math. My per-month cost for housing was technically higher, rent-wise. But I never paid any utilities of any sort (didn’t bother to get cable, which I would have had to pay for) during my four years. And I never had to pay rent every summer. I had two good, solid jobs back home, so I only spent one summer on campus. And that summer campus job came… Read more »

Amy
Amy
8 years ago

I keep reading on these blogs about how college students should not have a car; to rely on public transportation or find a friend with a car. I made the decision to have a car in college. My first two years, I didn’t. First year and a half, I was in a small town. Easy walk to the grocery store (I lived on campus, had a meal plan). But…it was incredibly frustrating (no public transportation in that city). The last half of the year, I had transferred to a city with public transportation (“free” bus pass-it’s included in the student… Read more »

Frances
Frances
8 years ago
Reply to  Amy

That line jumped right out at me too. Find a friend with a car…ok, but also pay your share of gas (rounding up to cover maintenance) and don’t forget to do something nice for said friend every now and again. Otherwise you’re just dumping your transportation costs on someone else, and freeloading on their time, too.

I haven’t seen anyone mention the possibility of joining a car share. I know they’re not available everywhere but you get to use a car when you need one at a fraction of the cost of owning your own.

Financial Planner Mary (Manchester, UK)
Financial Planner Mary (Manchester, UK)
8 years ago

I went to University in England, but it sounds very similar.

One of the big saviors of my degree was to set myself a weekly budget and pay wages to myself from my savings to a current account. This meant that I knew every week I would have some money coming in and allowed me to plan my expenses.

Great list of tips though for anyone off to University.

– Mary

Imelda
Imelda
8 years ago

My good financial choices in college: (’07 grad) – I didn’t get the meal plan. Before the year started, I did careful (and anal) calculations to determine which would be cheaper. I was able to feed myself on $25 weekly shopping trip to a discount market near my parents’. (this was in Manhattan, mind you) – i never got a credit card, partly because I didn’t understand the concept. – I didn’t have a cell phone. I wasn’t really social in college, so this wasn’t a huge loss. – I applied for grants and scholarships to cover unpaid summer internships.… Read more »

BrokeElizabeth
BrokeElizabeth
8 years ago

Great post. I do almost all of these, except that I haven’t worked my way through college. I plan on getting a job next year, but my first two years would have been outrageously difficult if I had to deal with a part time job on top of everything else I’ve been going through.

Sean H
Sean H
8 years ago

I am college director for my church so I deal with 100’s of college students who are making a lot of the opposite decisions of what is advised in this article. I thin that creating very simple habits and disciplines is SOOOO vital for your future.

Allison M
Allison M
8 years ago

I’m currently in college, and I do most of these things. One of the best way I have found to minimize school costs (aside from getting scholarships and working of course) is to buy my textbooks on amazon.com. Every semester I find out what books I need, research their prices on Amazon, and watch until I see a used book come up for a really good price. Right as the next semester starts, I put the books up on Craigslist. Although I still sell them for less than someone would pay for a used book at the campus bookstore, I… Read more »

Cherleen @ My Personal Finance Journey
Cherleen @ My Personal Finance Journey
8 years ago

I also made my way through college. I worked while in school, applied for every scholarship I feel I can qualify, cooked my own food, did my own laundry, and did all the stuff. There was no regret. I am proud to share my story to my children with the hopes of inspiring them to study hard and work for themselves.

Liz
Liz
8 years ago

Rent your textbooks. I’m a parent of three college students. We use Chegg.com. I can’t tell you how much we’ve saved in book expenses since I learned about this option.

yourPFpro
yourPFpro
8 years ago

What about books?! I could not believe how expensive books were as an engineering student. If you are in math/sciences though you are in luck, buy your books online! I bought all my $200+ textbooks as international editions through ebay, abebooks, etc. I asked my friends why they didn’t do it and they said it was too much work…wow! I spent less than $500 on textbooks in my entire college career(5 years haha) as an aerospace eng student. Come on now people, don’t be lazy, saving money is work, but it’s worth it! Have some more tips to save money… Read more »

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