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Extension Agent: 15 money tips for college students

By By Erika Bochat
Aug. 6, 2013 at 3:06 a.m.

Erika Bochat

Going to college is an awesome experience, but a few helpful money tips can help parents and college students get more for their money over the long term.

Financial experts agree that careful planning and wise spending can really stretch those education dollars. Do I sound like we're in the midst of readying our oldest to go off to school?

And all parents alike would be happier knowing that their student is taking care of their finances and being a good steward of their parents' investment in their education. • Budget your money to last. Know what you can spend and know when you've spent too much. For some college students, budgeting is a first-ever experience. It may sound hard, but it is not impossible. Keep records of what you spend and compare your spending to what you planned to spend. Keeping your checkbook balanced will keep you from going overboard. Set a little money aside for emergencies.

Be price sensitive. Comparison shop to save money. Know the community and what it has to offer. Check Consumer Reports magazine or its online version (consumerreports.org) for product/service comparisons and recommendations.

Use a debit card (check card) instead of a credit card to keep you from overspending. But don't forget to write down what you spend in your check register or online system.

Use your paid-for meal plan. If you have subscribed to a full or partial meal plan at school, use it. Don't leave money on the table by not using what you've paid for. The average cost per meal on your meal plan is likely to be less than what you would spend eating out but only if you use it.

Watch your dining-out dollars. Be careful about how much money you spend eating out. Remember that beverages can really add to your cost - in fact, they may be the most expensive part of a fast-food meal. Get into the habit of ordering regular tap water with ice and lemon/lime to accompany your meal and you will save a lot of money in the long run.

Beware of sales. There's no savings if you buy things you would not have purchased unless on sale. Learn to distinguish between wants and needs to guide your purchasing decisions.

Watch the cellphone use. Do you really know what your plan is costing? Text messaging can increase your costs, so be sure to select a plan that meets your needs and your budget. If you are having regular phone service connected, remember that it is not required for you to sign up for a long-distance service. You could use a phone card instead. Comparison shop for the lowest per-minute phone card cost.

Stay connected for less. In college, computer connectivity is important. If you are living in a dormitory, wireless or high-speed Internet may be included in your total cost. If you live off campus, consider your options; some apartment complexes may offer wireless or high-speed connections.

Buy used textbooks if they fit your textbook requirements. Some book suppliers now rent textbooks by the semester. Sell them at the end of the semester if you do not care to keep them for reference or to build a professional library.

Learn about the school's financial aid office. Get information from your financial aid office even if you do not have a student loan. Financial aid offices usually stock information on budgeting, economizing and managing credit.

Pay your credit card in full every month. Don't charge everything. Set rules for yourself. People who use their credit card for everything tend to spend more money, and often it is money they do not have.

Be wary of credit card solicitations. You only need one credit card. Some will give you gifts or other premiums. Too much open credit damages your credit history. Comparison shop for a credit card if you don't presently have one. They are not all the same. Look for a low APR, no annual fees and low/no extra fees and charges. Pay special attention to how your interest rate will change if you are late in making a payment. Pay credit card bills on time in order to avoid late fees - paying online may be helpful in speeding up payments.

Avoid identity fraud by being careful with your personal financial records and numbers. Avoid losing your personal belongings. Keep vital information away from prying eyes. Get a free copy of your credit report at the official website, annualcreditreport.com. Beware of imposter websites when requesting a copy of your credit report.

Avoid racking up needless extra costs. Library late fines cost money. Traffic violations and tickets cost money, too, and damage your record. Remember that hourly and daily fees to park in some convenient campus facilities cost much more than contract parking or other available student parking. Plan for the extra time it may take to save on parking or use bus service if it is available.

Think about getting a job. Weigh the costs and benefits of employment while you are going to school. Working more hours may provide more money but can increase the number of years (and the cost) of going to school. On the other hand, working can provide you with valuable experience related to your interests, major or future profession.

Questions or comments on money tips for college students? Email me at Erika.bochat@ag.tamu.edu or call me at the offices of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension-Victoria County at 361-575-4581.

Erika Bochat is a Victoria County extension agent- family and consumer sciences.

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