August is when thousands of high school graduates leave home, and head off to college. Perhaps this is the first time that many of you have been away from home and on your own. It is a memorable and exciting time, but it is important to understand college finances and how to make the most out of your experience without breaking the bank or going into extreme debt.
College is an exciting time, but it’s also an expensive time. With the average debt for graduating seniors hovering around $29,000 (according to CNN), every incoming freshman should be taught the basics of managing money.
We have all heard the stories about college grads who owe unmanageable student loans after graduation to the point where they cannot afford to move out of their parent’s homes. Today, college graduates owe more in student loans than the national credit card debt. And the fact is, young people do not obtain first time jobs out of school that pay enough for them to pay back their loans.
Hopefully, you and your parents have selected a school that fits into your overall family budget. If you choose a college based on social atmosphere or academics, you could be heading into financial disaster. Consider college discounts, scholarships and location. Applying for several scholarships and continuing to seek out scholarships for all four years of your education can save you considerable dollars.
The cost of college is so much more than your tuition. You have dorm fees, and book fees, transportation costs and meals. And of course, you will want money for recreation. Discuss your finances with your parents and make certain that both you and your parents are in agreement when planning your budget.
If they are providing you with an emergency credit card, then understand that it is for emergencies. If you have a budgeted amount of cash for food and gas or necessities, make certain that you apply that cash to your food, gas, and necessities. In short, learn to budget! The cold hard fact is that once you spent your money for the month, it is gone and you must wait for your next check from Dad and Mom! Put your allocated money in envelopes marked gas, food, etc. This will help you understand how much money you have on hand.
Consider obtaining a part-time job or look for an on-campus position associated with your major that will pay you a stipend. These options will give you a little extra money to spend on an evening out or a dinner out. Utilize your student ID for discounts. Many retailers and restaurants offer discounts and specials for college students.
In addition, before leaving home, openly discuss finances with your parents. Understand their expectations in terms of seeing your grades, calling home, coming home and how often and what will they expect of you when you do come home. They understand that you are in a “growing up” phase, but you need to understand that they are your parents and have a right to expect certain behaviors from you.
For the first time in your life, it is essential that you learn the meaning of being penny-wise. Avoiding waste and putting thriftiness to work for you will make your overall experience a much richer one and will ensure that your future will be financially stable. This is an exciting, memorable time in your life, and if you make the right financial decisions, your future will look a lot brighter.