Earn an “A” in personal finance this semester

It’s an exciting and scary time in many young adults’ life – heading to college. There’s so much freedom in being a college student. It’s a four-year adventure! However, sometimes as young adults when we aren’t under the watchful eye of our parents we can get carried away especially when it comes to money and credit. As a poor college student it’s so easy to charge unnecessary expenses on a credit card. I have a confession to make. As a college student my only purpose for getting a credit card was to go shopping and wear the kind of clothes I desired. I was, however, responsible enough to pay my credit card off. Yet, I could have used that money on something more useful. Don’t fall into the “I’ll charge everything now and pay it back later when I get a full-time job” trap that so many students fall into. Here are some financial tips that were beneficial to me as an undergrad.

Look for student discounts: There are all sorts of deals out there for college students. You just have to take the time to do the research and look for them. Take advantage of student discounts at the movies, museums, theatre, and even some gyms offer a discount for students. The extra savings go a long way.

Use credit card sparingly: Your undergrad years are a good time to establish credit because you’ll need it later when you want to purchase a car, home, rent an apartment, or be considered for employment. It’s also an opportune time to destroy your credit score with frivolous purchases on a credit card that you can’t afford to pay back. Credit should be used as a tool of convenience not an extension of your income. If you purchase a large ticket item on a credit card work out a budget to get the debt paid off as soon as possible and don’t continue to charge expensive items on a credit card without first paying it off.

Don’t take out unnecessary student loans: Student loans have become the norm for most college students. However, only take out enough to pay for educational expenses – not personal expenses. I knew some students taking out extra loans just to live off or use for spending purposes. This is one of the worst financial mistakes you can make. It may seem like free money at first, but you’ll regret it when you land that dream job and all your disposable income is going to pay back loans you didn’t need in the first place.

Save, save, save: Did I mention save? A lot of young adults neglect saving at an early age because they just don’t see the benefit or don’t have the discipline. If you begin saving a little every month you’ll be surprised at how fast that money grows over time. At the end of each semester I got a refund check. Instead of spending it I saved it and by the end of my senior year I had enough money to put a down payment on a car and to help pay for expenses after I graduated.

Open a checking account: I opened my checking account when I was a sophomore in college. It was one of the wisest financial decisions I made. My paychecks went straight to my account and funds were available immediately on payday. I no longer had to go the local supermarket to cash my check and get charged a fee. Checking accounts are fast, easy, convenient, reliable, and a safe way to store your money.

Spend wisely: Don’t spend all your extra money eating out, shopping, or on entertainment. If you live on campus use your meal plan instead of eating out. Try taking the bus sometimes and save money on gas. Or, have a movie night at your apartment/dorm instead of going out and buying a movie ticket and refreshments.

Finally, it’s important to keep track of your expenses – know what’s going out and what’s coming in. The best way to do that is to create a budget. A sound budget is your best friend when it comes to finances. For more about college and credit, check out:

New & old ways to pay for an education
Money management for the first time adult
Budget decorating tips from the dorm


Renee McGruder is a former communications coordinator and grant writer at MMI.