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Essential Financial Tips Every College Student Needs to Know


College marks the start of an exciting new chapter of life for every student, but with the increased independence and academic opportunities come increased financial responsibilities – which many college students find themselves completely unprepared for.

college expenses

Surviving college financially takes a fine balance of budgeting and keeping spending in check.

The fact of the matter is, college is expensive. A private four-year college costs upwards of $26,000 in tuition and fees, while a public four-year college ranges from $7,000 to over $11,000 depending on whether you live in- or out-of-state. Even a two-year college will cost you over $2,500 a year in tuition and fees.

If you’re fortunate, scholarships and financial aid can help to cover some of these costs … but they are not the only ones.

Extra College Costs to Consider

New college students may be unprepared for the true costs of their new academic adventure. Even if you’ve figured out how to cover tuition and fees, there’s still:

  • Room and board, which can cost over $7,000

  • Books and supplies, which average over $1,000 at four-year public colleges

  • Personal expenses such as laundry, cell phones and late-night pizzas, which cost college students nearly $2,000 on average

  • Transportation, which costs around $1,000 a year

That’s an extra $11,000 a year! For an unsuspecting college student, these costs can be overwhelming, and many fall into the trap of taking advantage of the numerous credit card offers advertised to unsuspecting students on college campuses across the United States.

Over 80 percent of college students have credit cards, according to Sallie Mae, and the average college student graduates with over $4,000 in credit card debt, and some up to $7,000, according to "Good Morning America" financial contributor Mellody Hobson.

In order to avoid going into financial ruin before you’ve even entered the workforce, it’s of crucial importance to learn how to manage your finances. And one of the best ways to do this is by creating a budget.

Budgeting 101 for College Students

You may think a budget is unnecessary until you’ve got rent to pay, groceries to buy and a car payment to think about … but a budget is an invaluable tool for today’s college students who are bombarded with expenses ranging from room and board to textbooks, food, toiletries and entertainment.

A budget allows you to see where your money is being spent, how much you are spending and how much you have leftover to save. Only by creating a budget will college students be able to determine if they can really afford to travel somewhere exotic over spring break, move from a dorm to an apartment, or even cover their required textbooks without going into debt.

Along with keeping track of your finances, a budget allows you to plan for short- and long-term goals. With a budget, you can figure out how to save for graduate school in a few years, or a trip backpacking across Europe; it's all there in black and white so there will be no surprises later on. It can also help college kids from amassing large amounts of debt that they could easily carry with them for decades after graduation.

Creating a budget is a simple, albeit tedious, process. It involves comparing your total income to your total expenditures (broken down into fixed expenditures like tuition and room and board, and flexible expenditures like entertainment).

You can do this on paper, use a computer program or print out a budget worksheet like the one from Remember to factor in all sources of “income” for college students, which includes financial aid, part-time jobs and any money from parents. And stress to your student that his income should match up to, or exceed, his expenses, not be below it.

Want Better Grades?
Get More Sleep

A good night’s sleep may be one of the most important factors in your student’s grades. In fact, research shows that too little sleep leads to lower scores in math and literacy, along with increased risks of depression and ill effects from stress.

So along with talking to your teen about the importance of getting to bed at a decent hour (at least on school nights), send them a care package with these two back-to-school must-haves for every college kid:

Sleep Easy CDThe Sleep Easy CD: The guided sleep meditations by a leading meditation expert, Mary Maddux, and music by a renowned meditation music composer with 20 years experience, will help your student find deep rest and sleep.

Pure Relaxation CDThe Pure Relaxation CD: This CD will calm your mind, soothe your emotions and create a state of deep relaxation in your body. Using these guided meditations regularly will help your student to live in a more relaxed way in college and beyond.

Student Identity Theft Outbreak ALERT!

Very VERY prevalent for students due to Facebook and other reasons.

Protecting Your Parent’s and Your Assets by Avoiding Identity Theft

Most student ID numbers are the same as your student’s social security number – a potentially serious security breach since your student likely hands this card out multiple times a day.

This, coupled with the fact that many students put their birthdays on social networking sites like Facebook, makes college kids an easy target for identity theft criminals.

"Those who frequent these sites should be aware the data they share may make them prey for online attacks. Giving out a social security number, paired with a birthday and name, could provide enough ammunition for criminals to hack into financial records and compromise users' personal information," said Ron Texeria, executive director of the U.S. National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA).

So make sure your students knows this, and never posts personal information (or photos that include it) such as their birthday on their social networking pages. It’s also important that your student has privacy options enabled, so only invited visitors can view the page.

Those aged 18-29 are actually most likely to become a victim to identity theft, accounting for 31 percent of such victims, and it’s not only because of social networking and student IDs.

College students also tend to be naïve and give out their personal information rather freely. Talk to your student about email phishing scams that ask for personal information fraudulently, along with the importance of destroying credit card offers and other financial information. Even a blank credit card application sent to your student can be picked up from the trash and filled out by a criminal, allow them to open a card in your student’s name.

Also, teach your student to monitor any credit card statements and bank statements closely to check for unusual activity. You are also entitled by law to one free copy of your credit report each year from each of the major credit reporting bureaus. Review this report at least once a year for errors and suspicious activity.

6 Money-Saving Tips for College Students

Most college students must get through four years of fun and learning on a very modest amount of money. Along with budgeting, you can not only survive, but thrive in college financially by:

  1. Asking for student discounts: Many stores, travel outlets, restaurants and more offer discounts to college students. If you don’t see a sign advertising one, don’t be hesitant to ask.

  1. Parents, talk to your kids about money: Only one in three parents discuss finances with their colleges students, according to Hobson, and this leaves many students completely unprepared. Don’t assume your student knows how to make a budget, balance a checkbook or use a credit card wisely. Instead, talk to them about wise spending and budgeting to protect them from making potentially serious financial mistakes.

  1. Open credit cards wisely: A low-interest, low-balance credit card can be a useful option for students, especially in the case of emergency. But make sure your teen knows the importance of only spending what they can afford, and get a duplicate statement so you can monitor their spending. Talk to your teen about not opening credit cards just for a free t-shirt or other “free” offer, as these cards may end up costing them in major debt expenses in the long run.

Alternatively, consider a debit card instead of a credit card, as this will give your teen only a fixed amount of money, making it impossible to go into debt (from this source, anyway).

  1. Look for scholarships, grants and other "free" money. You can earn a scholarship for academic, athletic or artistic talents, and for many other reasons, like majoring in a certain field of study or belonging to a certain minority group.

  1. Take advantage of student services. Many campuses offer free legal services, discounted medical care and other services to students, so check into these before going off campus. There are also many free activities, like concerts, movies, and festivals, to take advantage of.

  1. Live frugally. You don’t have to exist on noodles alone for four years, but keep an eye out for money-saving options when they’re available. For instance, get a roommate or two to share rent expenses, buy your textbooks used, check out local thrift shops for cool vintage clothing, and frequent Web sites like for steals on used furniture, bikes, and other costly items you might otherwise not be able to afford.

College should be a time for your student to focus on learning, growing as a person, meeting new people and having fun new experiences; it should not be a time to be burdened with financial woes or excessive debt. By taking the time to give your teen a few solid pointers about how to succeed in college financially, you’ll be giving her a sound financial foundation that will last her for the rest of her life.

SixWise Ways!
SixWise Says ...

“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”

--commonly attributed to
Benjamin Franklin

Recommended Reading

$120,000 for a Diploma! Why IS College So Darned Expensive and What Can You Do About It?

Scholarships for Students: The Quick-Guide for Finding the Most & Best for College and Beyond


ABC News August 24, 2010

ABC News August 23, 2010

College Board: What it Costs to go to College

College Board: Break Down the Bill August 21, 2007

The Register October 4, 2006

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