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Back-to-School Budgeting Tips for College Students

Finance | 09/06/2022 22:00

The leaves are falling, everything is pumpkin spice flavored, and football is in the air. That means one thing: school is back in session. 

Going back to school is fun and exciting, but it is also expensive. If you are in college, you know just how quickly the expenses add up. Tuition, food, books–the costs never seem to stop. So today we are giving our top tips for saving money in college, from how to start a budget to how to cut costs on groceries. 

Here are our top tips for budgeting and saving money in college.

Colledge student studying and budgeting

Set up a budget.

The most important thing you can (and should) do for your finances is set up a budget. There are a lot of different ways to go about this, but getting an app for budgeting is an easy way to stay organized and stay committed. There are a lot of different budgeting apps out there that have different goals. Some apps, like Mint and Wally, are simply designed to help you categorize and track expenses. Other apps like Personal Capital help you build savings and work on investments. Some apps track your expenses automatically while others require you to manually enter everything. Do your research to find which app works best for your lifestyle.

If you are looking to budget the old school way, it’s really not that hard but it does require a bit of organizing and planning in the beginning. You simply need to determine your monthly income, determine your monthly expenses, and see how everything compares. Look for areas where you are overspending and try to adjust your habits accordingly. Here are some easy ways to edit your expenses:

  • Buy generic groceries instead of name brand groceries

  • Split your streaming services with a friend or two

  • Carpool with friends to split the cost of gas

  • Buy shelf stable items and dry goods in bulk if you have the room–it’ll be cheaper overall 

  • Be skimpy when grocery shopping and avoid the urge to buy a lot of perishable food–food waste is a rampant problem in this country (and can really hurt a grocery budget)

Whether you choose to use an app or just budget with a spreadsheet, the most important thing is to stay committed. Consistent tracking and discipline will help you avoid debt, build savings, and plan for your future.

Set up an emergency fund.

It’s never too early to start building a little cushion for a rainy day. If you don’t have an emergency fund just yet, be sure to get one started. There are a few easy ways to get one going:

  • Use direct deposit. Set up your paycheck so that a percentage goes to a savings account dedicated to emergencies. 

  • Make it part of your budget. Put your emergency fund as a line item in your budget and treat it like a bill that has to be paid.

  • Use your spare change. Save all of your change and use it as a basis for your emergency fund–you’d be surprised how quickly this can add up!

  • Use your cash back rewards. If you have a credit card that gives you cash back, redeem your points for cash to use for your emergency fund.

Experts recommend having enough money in an emergency fund to pay for six months worth of expenses. While that may be a bit unrealistic for a college student, it’s important to get some money saved up (a goal of $1000 is a really good start). It will also get you in good habits for the rest of your adult life.

Get the most from your student ID.

Your student ID can get you into class and the college gym, but it can get you a lot more than that. Go to your student center to find out what local places offer student discounts. Movie theaters, restaurants, concert venues, and even tech stores offer discounts to students, so be sure to take advantage. Local grocery stores may also offer discounts on certain days, so try to shop accordingly. 

Only use cash for entertainment and activities. 

Cash can be a great way to contain your spending. Try taking out $100 or $200 per week that will cover all of your activities and eating out for the week. When you run out of cash, that’s it! You may be surprised at how much money you are spending every week on the non-essentials. Using cash will help you stick to a firm budget for the fun stuff and learn how to balance entertainment and the essentials.

Get a cash back credit card.

Getting a credit card can be a great thing, but it can also be a little dangerous. In general, if you can get a credit card that you can pay back in full every month, it’s a good move. If you never pay interest on the card, you can actually make money by having a credit card. There are a lot of different cash back credit cards on the market, so do some research and find out what will give you the most bang for your buck.

Refinance your car loan.

Owning a car on campus can be a huge expense. Car payments, insurance, gas, parking, and maintenance can put a tight squeeze on a limited budget.

Refinancing your car loan is an easy way to lower your monthly car expenses. By refinancing your car loan you can secure a lower car loan APR, which can save hundreds of dollars per year. You can also save money by changing your repayment period. By lengthening your repayment period by a year or two, you can lower your monthly payments significantly. 

If your credit score hasn’t improved since your initial financing, consider asking a family member to co-sign on your car loan refinance. Their good credit score can help secure you a lower APR–just make sure you pay your bills on time so their score isn’t negatively affected.

Those are our top budgeting tips for heading back to college.

Going to college is expensive, but that doesn’t mean you have to live in your dorm room eating ramen the whole time. Learning to budget and cut costs when possible can help you enjoy your time in college while not racking up debt. Don’t let money matters spoil your fun.

If you have a car on campus and are financing it, consider refinancing your loan with Auto Approve. It’s an easy way to save money and it’s super fast, so you can spend less money on your car and more money on having fun–err, we mean, on your education.

If car refinancing seems like a good idea to you, get your free quote today! Getting a quote is free, quick, and easy, so you have nothing to lose!


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