5 Things I Wish I Had Known About Money Before Going To College

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13 years ago as a freshman in college, I had no idea what a budget looked like. I had never been on a budget and I was certainly not about to start one while at school. When I first arrived on campus, they had tables set up for students to sign up for credit cards. I thought it was my lucky day, like I had hit the lottery or something! Of course I signed my name on that dotted line and didn't look back.

First week of school like...

I was very ignorant; I didn't know how credit cards really worked. When that credit card came in the mail, I went out of control! I would go to the mall every other day with my friends, party hard, and I would take all of my friends out to eat all of the time. Like, who does that? It wasn't coming out of my pockets directly, so I didn't feel the sting when I swiped that credit card. Once that bill came in the mail though, I didn't know what to do. I immediately called home to my parents for help. I racked up a shocking amount of credit card debt during my freshman year just on eating out, partying, and shopping alone. If I knew then what I know now, I would have never, ever, ever signed up for that credit card. Chances are that you'll leave college with student loan debt, so don't pile credit card debt on top of that.

Everyone obviously needs credit to get by in this world, so what are you supposed to do? If you decide to sign up for that card, use it responsibly. If you can't pay for it in cash, you can't afford it. Full stop. Use your credit cards wisely to build a strong history, not to take your friends to Red Lobster.

Here's how we're going to get you through college successfully on a shoestring budget. The following are five easy things I wish I had done before going off to college...and losing a lot of money.

1. Determine how much total monthly income you are going to have coming in.

Your income will likely include financial aid, gifts, money from your parents, savings, and part time job wages. Make sure you account for all of these when you're creating your budget. Monitor your spending/expenses very closely during the first few weeks at school. Review your checking account like a hawk! This will allow you to determine areas where you can cut back on your spending. For instance, you may realize that you've been eating out too much over the course of the month. In this case, you better get familiar with the dining hall and ramen noodles! During this time, you will also be able to monitor those necessary expenses to include school expenses (books, tuition, school supplies), transportation, food, medical, clothing, room and board or off campus housing, cell phone, entertainment, etc. This will allow you to make an accurate budget that reflects all of your necessities.

2. Monitor your spending/expenses very closely during the first few weeks at school.

Review your checking account like a hawk! This will allow you to determine areas where you can cut back on your spending. For instance, you may realize that you've been eating out too much over the course of the month. In this case, you better get familiar with the dining hall and ramen noodles! During this time, you will also be able to monitor those necessary expenses to include school expenses (books, tuition, school supplies), transportation, food, medical, clothing, room and board or off campus housing, cell phone, entertainment, etc. This will allow you to make an accurate budget that reflects all of your necessities.

3. Make sure your budget balances accurately.

Telling friends NO

To calculate everything, take your total monthly income amount and subtract all of your necessary expenses from that amount. You should either budget down to the penny or make sure you have a few dollars left over as cushion (spending/saving money). If you are coming up short, it's time to re-do your budget. Cut something out that you don't need.

4. Use cash.

Personally, I like using the cash on hand, envelope system budget. I find that the less you use your debit card, the less likelihood that you will spend money that is unplanned.

5. Save, save, save.

Emergencies come up and being in college doesn't make you exempt. You have to be prepared for them when they occur, so saving every little bit of extra money is imperative. Additionally, most students like to take a trip during spring break and other holidays throughout the school year. Plan for this early on and save as much as you can for that trip. If it turns out that you won't be able to spare those extra funds for the trip, then you don't need to go!

The takeaway...

Once you get the hang of budgeting and being aware of where your money is going, practicing good financial habits will become second nature to you in the future. You'll be well on your way to being a budget boss once those college days come to an end. In this day and age, there is no excuse for you not to be able to stay on track as there are a ton of tools and apps that are designed to help you track your expenses and save money. As long as you stay away from credit cards, stick with a balanced budget, and save some coins from time to time, you'll be fine!