As a student the last thing on your mind is probably personal finance, and related personal finance tips & advice. Nonetheless while you are in your 20′s you are at a critical point in your life and following personal finance tips for students is something you’ll wish you’d done when you are older. I guarantee it. So if you are one of the more than 14 million students currently attending college in the United States (or a student attending college outside of the U.S.) then the following personal finance tips are for you. For those who’ve already graduated keep on reading as well, you might just find something that will benefit you as well!
Use the library
One amazing resource that you have at your full disposal as a student is your school’s library. If it’s like most college/university libraries out there then you’ll have a couple of neat things to take advantage of. The first, and possibly the biggest money saver, is free WiFi. Most schools will offer this, so if you live close enough or are able to spend enough time on campus you can take advantage of the schools internet and save yourself upwards of $30 a month.
Need a textbook or research materials? There’s a big chance that your school offers free access to these materials for you, so if you only need a textbook for a few days out of the semester, why buy it when you can borrow it?
This isn’t something that’s likely offered at your school library, but it’s pretty likely available at your public library: movies and music. So if you need some entertainment and don’t want to cough up the dough for a Redbox or Netflix rental head down to your local library and check out their music and movie selection.
Be smart with textbooks
One of the largest expenses you’ll have as a college student is the cost of your textbooks every semester. If you buy them new (and depending on your course load) you could easily spend upwards of $700 for textbooks alone. That’s a pretty major expense and one that, if you can, would be wise to cut in half or even more. Here’s how:
Rent your textbook. Google the phrase “rent textbooks” and you’ll find plenty of options. If your book isn’t available for some reason see if you can check it out from your school library (they’ll usually have a couple copies of textbooks on hand) and if all else fails and you have to buy it then be smart about that as well. Don’t bother buying new if possible, get it used from amazon, check Craigslist or Google the ISBN number for your textbook and see what you can find.
Another thing you should try (if possible) is selling your textbooks back to the school bookstore (or on Craigslist or amazon if you can get more) after the semester is over. This way you can reduce the out of pocket expense for the next semester’s textbook cost. Also if you can sell your books back before the end of the semester you might get a bit more back for them than if you wait until the semester is over.
Throw your ID around
Put that student ID in your wallet and make sure you always have it with you, because you can get some serious discounts with that magical little card. From food to movies to MacBooks, the discounts are a plenty.
Looking to get yourself a MacBook or an iPad for use at school? Great news! Apple offers a pretty decent discount on just about all of their hardware products. You can see said discounts on Apple’s online store or stop in to your local Apple store (or university bookstore if they sell Apple products) and ask about the student discount. You should also check out Academic Superstore online for pretty substantial discounts on many of your favorite software programs (Windows, Office, Adobe Creative Suite, etc.).
Discounts on entertainment
Love movies? Of course you do. Check with your local theatre to see if they offer a student discount. Most movie theatres will, and unless you’ve only got one theatre within 5-15 miles of you there’s a good chance that a theatre that’s close enough will offer a fairly substantial discount on tickets (we’re talking $6 bucks a movie instead of $10).
Some other great places that will typically offer student discounts include museums, live theatre, comedy shows, concerts, etc. There’s a lot of discount giving going on out there in the world of entertainment so make sure you ask!
Discounts on food
Check with the local eateries near your college campus, as there is a pretty high chance that they offer discounts on food to students. Check your school newsletters as well as bulletin boards on and around campus for other restaurants/eateries offering student discounts. Finally if you stop by a chain (McDonalds, etc) ask if they offer a student discounts. It can’t hurt to ask and the worst they can say is no.
Discounts on services
You’ve got to be prepared for Spring Break at all times, so if you’re getting out of shape check with your school to see if they have a fitness center/gym. There’s a pretty good chance they do and an even better chance that it’s free (or at the very least seriously discounted).
Moral of the story? Ask around everywhere you go to see if they have a student discount. There’s a good chance they might have one.
Be smart with credit
Your credit history will carry with you for a long time and the sooner you can get yourself into a routine with good financial habits, the better. Therefore, your early 20′s and the college years are a critical time to really work on building an excellent credit history. For more information on credit (and your credit score) please check out How Your Credit Score Defines You.
It goes without saying that banks and credit card companies love college students. They really try to capture your business early on and by doing so often will offer some sort of incentive for even applying for their credit card. Don’t fall for this deception. Just because XYZ bank is handing out free t shirts if you sign up for their credit card doesn’t mean that you should do it. Avoid these offers, and if you just must have whatever SWAG they are giving out then remember to promptly close the card once you receive it in the mail (and destroy it properly).
If you trust yourself not to go overboard then consider charging all of your necessary living expenses on a credit card and then pay your bill in full at the end of each month. By paying in full at the end of every month you’ll avoid interest charges and you’ll be building a good credit history as well as teaching yourself discipline. That said it’s not likely worth it to do this unless you have a card that offers rewards.
Finally, if possible avoid taking out student loans. Sure it’s cheap to finance your education, especially with subsidized loans, but take it from me it’s not fun to have to pay off your education years after you got your diploma. Not to mention that student loans can be crippling and possibly even prevent you from being able to take on a dream job.
Protect your belongings
You might not have a lot of stuff yet, but it’s still important to protect your belongings. If your apartment burnt to the ground how would you replace all of your clothes, your computer, etc? My recommendation is to always carry a renters insurance policy. These can cost as little as $5 a month (one less latte) and will provide peace of mind, and we all know you can’t put a price on that.
Don’t neglect scholarships/grants
There are a lot of scholarships and grants available out there, all you have to do is look for them. Do yourself a favor and check with your school’s financial aid department to see what is available to you as a student. Also do a quick search online to see what else is available. One caveat to searching online: there are many companies that claim they will find you money in scholarships and charge a fee to do so. While they may very well be a legitimate company I’d recommend avoiding them as you can certainly find the information on your own and for free.
Consider using a community college for your first two years
Community Colleges are quite a bit cheaper than your local university and in most cases offer a comparable education. My advice is to do your first two years of higher education at a community college and then transfer to a university to finish your degree. By doing so you’ll save thousands of dollars and still get an excellent education!
That’s all I’ve got for today. There are plenty of resources you should check out as hyperlinks on this blog post so make sure you do that as well. Also for those who will be graduating soon (or for recent graduates) check out 5 Must Read Tips for New Graduates. Do you have any additional money saving tips for students? Sound off in the comments below!