Money is definitely an object. It has been, it will be and always will be something to be needed, wanted and hated. This summer, I had a lot of fun in a very expensive city. But now with the semester starting up, it’s back to work, figuratively and literally. I want to put down everything I’ve learned about money since I began college and the tricks I learned to stay afloat.
Note: These tips will likely only help US Citizens who are not attempting to pay off their student loans while in college.
I’m definitely a Taurus and this shows nowhere more so than the way I spend money. I can at one point refuse to spend an extra $6 on allergy medication and ration my remaining pills to last me through finals, and also spend literal hundreds of dollars to deck out my room decor, new clothes, new phone (who dis) for a new school year. This is a bad habit I’m trying to break, but I do well with money in-spite of these luxurious sprees.
As with all things, there are some disclaimers I need to post before I arouse the hatred of the Interwebs. This is an un-sponsored post. All of the apps and websites linked (currently) are unpaid, and have been helpful to me making a budget, being aware of finances, and learning the terms that be useful when I officially start adulting after graduation.
This blog post is for more “traditional” students; students who are just out of high school, do not have children or are married, and do not have the ability to work full-time while studying. Although some of the tips will be helpful to non-citizens, its best suited for US residents and citizens. I’ll look into more helpful pointed advice to international students in following posts.
And now, a disclaimer about who I am. I am a low income student with majority of my family in Ghana. Beyond the occasional “gift” from them, I pay my own tuition. Outside of health insurance (from Wellesley no less) and phone bills, I am financially independent of them. However, Wellesley’s amazing financial aid has enabled me not only to pay that leftover amount fairly easily with on-campus jobs, but also to graduate college with a minuscule amount of debt in comparison to the national average, which makes the following tips easier for me to achieve.
Now that all the disclaimers are out of the way, on to the tips!
- Work part-time. Even if you haven’t been awarded work-study, look for the opportunity to work on or off campus FOR PAY. Not an unpaid internship that will “open doors for you”. Retail, food services, and campus organizations often have open positions. Take to financial aid services at your school if you would like to translate on of your loans to work-study. Be persistent; the less you owe, the better.
- Have a budget. But don’t beat yourself up when you don’t follow it to the letter. It’s important to be aware of how much you’re spending in relation to how much you make. When I make my budget, I take into account the tuition payment for that month, how often I’ll go out (my next biggest expense), and what’s leftover to save or invest. Using the free version of EveryDollar and the ever free (but ad laden) Mint are great places to start.
- Save. Have a checking and savings account, and if you have extra money laying around, a certificate of deposit (CD). Most, if not all major bank institutions have a reduced bank maintenance fee for college students. For Bank of America and Chase, that is $5 per month for balances under $300; $0 for above that. Force yourself to not touch that amount except well, during high spending times in the year. If you have more space to save, and you absolutely don’t need the extra cash soon, consider saving in a high interest CD with Ally Bank. As it matures, you earn assured interest at higher rates than any traditional brick and mortar bank.
- Be aware of high spending times and save accordingly. You will shell out a lot of cash when the semester begins, when finals are over, and during an religious observances/ holidays. I cannot tell you how annoying it is to feel my bank accounts scrape the bottom around Christmas, September and May (my birthday month no less). Textbooks always hit me upside the face, not to mention going out with the girls to celebrate after exams are over. Plan for these moments!
- Know the words and rules of the game. What’s a certificate of deposit? What’s your credit score? (Know this especially if you’ve taken out loans.) When I first checked my credit score with Credit Karma, I had to gasp for air. Then start building it. (Learn more about that here.) Do you know what annuity and equity is? Investopedia it. Learn the rules of wealth with NerdWallet. If you don’t like reading, try listening to Dave Ramsey and the Financial Diet for what to do, and to Mark Goudy for what not to do.
- Invest. This one is definitely pointed more towards US Citizens than others; but y’all are soiled for choice. You can invest pocket change and $5 bills into investment apps like Acorns and STASHInvest. Go for Robinhood if you’re more adventurous! In major cities across the USA, you can now trade cypto-currencies for no fee there. Acorns and STASH $12 subscription rate for a whole year under $5000; I prefer them because STASH has a Finance coach that guides you through the ropes (I just started last year) and Acorns has the fastest withdrawal rate for either of them.
- Start a side hustle…whether it pays or not. There’s a place for unpaid work if it furthers your skill set and social circle. The West seems to be approaching a time when it will be more heavily a gig economy, where the 9 to 5 job is gone or for more matured adults and who you know matters just as much as what you know. Learn coding, blog for fun, or learn a trade/skill for fun. Then use Fiverr, nDash, or other gig platforms to earn a bit as you study.