As a college student, running out of money halfway through your semester is probably your worst nightmare. You need that money to last and we’re here to provide you with the tips to make that happen. It's all about the plan and we are good at that over here.
Chances are when you take out student loans, you receive a lump sum of money at the beginning of the semester when your loan funds are distributed, often known as a financial aid refund. This means you have to ration all that money to last you for several months.
And since this is most likely a new concept...this can be incredibly challenging to budget for. And unfortunately, if you can’t manage your money in college, you might have to take extreme measures and borrow money from your parents or even worse, rack up a credit card. Which is a slippery slope.
So what can you do to make sure your cash lasts you all semester long? Follow these tips and let this be a guide to becoming more financially savvy. Your future self will thank you.
This might seem daunting, but actually it’s quite easy. All you have to do is count how many weeks stand between the beginning and the end of the semester. A typical semester is 15 weeks long, but make sure you count your specific school’s semester calendar just to be safe.
Now, take the total amount of money deposited into your bank account from the loan and divide that by that number, 15 weeks, give or take.
For example, say you have $5,000 for the whole semester. $5,000 divided by 15 weeks leaves you approximately ~$333 available to spend per week.
The most important part when it comes to making a budget is also planning for unexpected expenses. We tried our best to cover everything on one spreadsheet, but since everyone has different backgrounds and experiences, it’s important to account for everything that could possibly require you to pay upfront.
Don’t forget to set aside money for entertainment and dining. Though at first, you might say that you won't spend money in these categories, but truth be told it’s bound to happen and you should be prepared for it when it does. We certainly don’t want to ruin all of your fun, so work these into your budget, just do so sparingly.
If you do have extra money even after you’ve allocated everything, you should consider making interest payments on your unsubsidized loans. This might seem ridiculous for someone who has no money, but it can actually help you out immensely upon graduating and prevent you balance from growing while you’re still in college. The goal would be to avoid accruing all the interest that would eventually be added to your principal balance over the course of your tenure, but any amount towards interest can be helpful.
Making a budget isn’t meant to torture you, in fact, you should feel liberated that you’re getting your finances in check so that you don’t stress if your money runs out and you have nothing to show for it.
Spending your money frivolously also just ensures that you’ll run out of money sooner than you anticipated which could lead to even more money spent on credit cards (and even higher interest on those). We’re not here to say, “don’t have fun.” We’re just here to say, “be smart about having fun.”
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When making your budget, you have to account for the cost of books so why not overshoot your budgeting dollars, and underspend on your textbooks? Sound too good to be true? It's totally not.
It's the first place (besides the library) you should go to get the textbooks you might only use once a semester...or never. Cruel of professors to force you to buy a book that you never use. But I digress.
Plus with that Amazon Prime membership, you copped above^, you'll get free 2-day shipping on most of your rentals. If you do decide to buy your textbooks for the semester, there's actually a place where you can sell back your textbooks too.
All in all, you can't lose when it comes to Amazon's services, and you should definitely take advantage of them!
And they all offer different shows so they can get you sucked in easily and effectively. But having a subscription to every streaming service would run you a lot of money each month. If you're trying to take the most cost-effective method...take full advantage of your Amazon Prime membership.
Amazon Prime offers thousands of movies and TV shows free with your Prime membership. Plus, it's free for your first 6 months, so why not get a taste of what they have to offer, find a new show to binge and enjoy all the savings of canceling your other streaming services.
And hey...I'm sure you have a friend or two that has all of the others, so capitalize on your resources and you won't miss a thing, including your precious money.
A refurbished laptop is just one that has been either pre-owned and cleaned so it works like new, or it's been reproduced using parts from parts that are in perfect condition. If you're worried about the warranty, you're in luck, many refurbished products come with very similar warranties as new ones.
This refurbished Macbook Pro has a retail value of $1299 and is on sale on Amazon for $528! That's almost 50% off the original price and it works just the same!
The best way to take advantage of your school's dining hall is to always think ahead. If you know you only have time to get to the dining hall once a day, make sure you're stocking up on the most nutrient-dense foods they have, that way you can stay fuller for longer throughout your day.
Some schools also have programs where you can take food to go. If yours does, this is an easy one. Go in for one meal and make sure you take a meal to go. They typically will allow you to fill the container as much as you can, so do your best to fill it and grab stuff that will last all day.
Buying your own groceries is also the best way to make healthier choices during your week. However, it’s also easy to fall victim to all the fad diets and expensive healthy food costs that make you think you’re eating healthy but you’re mostly just draining your bank account. This is a surefire way to save money and also avoid food waste.
Also, the best part of grocery shopping for yourself is the ability to bring your own snacks to campus. You don't have to feel guilty spending extra money when you don't need to and you have the full liberty to eat what you want. I call that a win.
Packing your lunch and snacks for class for the week can save you a lot of money in the long-run, probably even more than you would save having a meal plan so if you aren't required to buy your school's meal plan, consider this option!
If there's one thing I could suggest, it's to buy a Kuerig for your dorm and bring your coffee to class. You will likely need coffee for all those long days and late nights, but you don't need to go broke funding your caffeine addiction.
Let's just hypothetically say you buy a coffee every day of the school week. And each coffee costs you approximately ~$2.99 (excluding the bagel and cream cheese that always smells so delectable as you walk in the coffee shop). $2.99 x 5 days a week is a total of $14.95, which is a total of $59.90 over the course of a month.
That's a pretty cheap cup of coffee too, most places cost a lot more, but you get the picture. For the price of one month of coffee, you can buy a coffee machine and only have to buy pods. The savings speak for themselves.
This coffee maker is extremely reliable and small enough to fit on your desk without taking up too much space. I also highly recommend this travel mug to take your coffee to class without it getting cold or spilling everywhere.
On top of your student ID saving you money just by showing it, you also can utilize apps on your desktop such as Honey, which looks for discount codes for you and automatically applies the best one so you can save the most money.
Take advantage of things on campus that are free. A lot of universities will hold free movie nights, events, crafts, games, etc and most of the time food will be provided. You can grab some friends and make a night out of this and not spend a dime! If you're trying to plan a night out with friends, suggest doing a potluck. Everyone brings a dish and you can eat a full meal in the company of friends at a huge cost-savings for you! Plus these can be a ton of fun!
Rather than go out to the bars, take advantage of going to house parties. Buying beer at a grocery store is much cheaper than buying it at a bar or restaurant.
Once more? You got it? Good! Now that that’s been established… Credit card debt is insurmountably high for everyone, including you on a fixed college budget. And you definitely don’t want to commit your future dollars to pay off interest and principal if you don’t have to.
But that being said, there can be some strategy for spending money on credit cards. If you have your budget planned out perfectly and you have a credit card that can earn you cashback or rewards. Then, by all means, spend accordingly. Just be sure you pay it off on time and don’t leave a balance on the card. You can (and should) reap the benefits of your credit cards to save extra money where you can.
Some credit cards will give you a percentage for anything you buy, while others are more specific to gas, groceries, dining & entertainment, etc. So long as you are prepared and have the means to pay it off.
The biggest reason students find themselves in tough financial situations is that they don’t take the time at the beginning of the semester to form money habits that are actionable and effective. But now that you have this plan of attack, you can assure that that doesn’t happen to you.
The best part about money habits is they will stick with you forever. A budget now means a budget in the future that will be much easier to follow. Think of this as your hardest money hurdle and the rest will be a cakewalk!
That’s why we have done the hard work for you and have curated a list of the best student loan providers for you and your college to save you literally thousands of dollars in interest over the time of your loan.