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Now that the unofficial end of summer is officially here, many college students have already headed to campus. During the last few weeks of prepping and planning, students and their parents have no doubt realized (if they didn’t already know) that attaining higher education is a costly endeavor. In addition to the high price of tuition there are the associated expenses of college life including room and board, food and toiletries, dorm furnishings and accessories, books and school supplies, and a laptop. Not to mention extra cash for clothes, entertainment, and maybe a car or other travel expenses!

With all of these expenses plus trying to assert a newfound sense of independence (especially if they’re living away from home) college students may find themselves faced with some financial management challenges. Fear not young scholars! Read on for some simple tips on how you can stop relying on Mom and Dad’s wallet while still maintaining your lifestyle, not going broke, and possibly even establishing your credit.

5 Money-Management Tips for the Campus Crew from Credit Unions Online

  1. Save at a Credit Union

    Open a savings account and add a little money to it whenever you can. Avoid taking money out of your savings - the more money you keep in there, the better dividends you’ll earn. It’s important to save for emergencies, unexpected expenses, and the occasional big purchase or Spring/Winter Break vacation.

    Better yet, open this account at a credit union, if you’re not already a CU member. You can easily find one near your school if you’ll be living on-campus. If you’re not a CU member, find one and join today. Credit unions typically have better rates, fewer fees, and more member-friendly terms. Many credit unions also offer substantial products, services, and other tools for college-bound members from special student accounts to local scholarships to student credit cards to education and guidance for college saving.

    Credit unions usually offer student checking accounts as well, which allow students to avoid fees on withdrawals or fund transfers, and a large network of fee-free ATMs.

  2. Get Book Smart

    Before purchasing your textbooks from your school’s bookstore which can be a very costly venture, consider your other options. You could rent or order your books from a site like Amazon.com, borrow from a library, buy from a local bookstore, or even share with your roommates. Textbooks really add up and this is an easy way to help you save a few bucks.

  3. Be Credit Wise

    After consulting your parents, consider applying for a low-limit credit card to start building your credit now, and remember to use your card responsibly. Since you’re just starting out with your first credit card and have not incurred debt, a great way to beef up your credit score is to make purchases with your card and pay your balance monthly. This consistent cycle of buying and paying will help build your credit and give you a major advantage when applying for a mortgage or auto loan.

    Make a conscious effort to ensure you are staying within your budget and within your credit line. The worst thing you can do is overspend, accrue debt, and have to pay high interest rates. If you need some help understanding how credit works, visit the business dept. at your school, contact your credit union, or ask Mom or Dad.

  4. Budget, Budget, Budget

    • Track spending vs. income. If there is more going out than coming in, you can either eliminate certain expenses or find ways to earn more money.
    • Distinguish between wants and needs. What are necessities and what can you live without? After taking a closer look, you’ll probably see that much of your money is going toward luxuries. Cut back and save more!
    • Set goals for saving. Figure out important, often big-ticket expenses that might be coming up, like college or a car. If you plan ahead and know these are looming, you can cut out wasteful spending to have the money for them when you need it.
    • Say ‘no’ to impulse buying! Chances are you’ll end up regretting random purchases. Avoid places and people that cost money and will lead to you giving into whims. Go low or no cost when it comes to entertainment – try movie night or a campout.
    • Treat yourself to the occasional luxury! If you’ve been sticking to your budget its ok to indulge in something you love once in a while. A special treat will often give you the momentum to keep going on the right track!
  5. Financial Aid 101

    Although the process of seeking and applying for financial aid can seem daunting at first, have no fear. With the right guidance, a little bit of effort, and some organization, you can find some valuable rewards that could make a world of difference when it comes to your bottomline college costs. Plus, keep in mind that you can apply for aid every year.

    • Know the basics. Essentially, there are 3 types of financial aid: loans, scholarships and grants, and employment programs. Remember, loans must be paid back!
    • Don’t procrastinate. The earlier you complete your FAFSA form, the better. The Free Application for Student Aid can be submitted by high school seniors or college students any time after January 1st. For assistance, call 1-800-4-fed-aid, visit www.fafsa.ed.gov, or consult your guidance counselor.
    • Scholarship search. Scholarship opportunities are out there and you can find them. Utilize resources like the Internet and your guidance counselor. Be aware of deadlines!
    • Be on the SAR lookout. Once you’ve completed the FAFSA, keep an eye out for your Student Aid Report.

Although college is costly, and living on your own can have its ups and downs, learning to manage your money as a student can prove to be a valuable skill that will come in handy in many aspects of your life and future.

By Cyndi Cohen
Published September 3, 2014
Credit Unions Online