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Budgeting for college students

minute read

    As a new college student, intimidating financial responsibilities may be on your brain like paying for college, building an emergency fund, studying abroad, buying a car, saving for a vacation, or thinking longer term like buying a house. Whether you're a "rise and grind go-getter" or a "work hard, play harder" type of person, it can be hard to figure out exactly where to begin when thinking about how to budget.

    So where do you start?

    The first step to any goal is a plan. And if your goals require a fresh flow of cash, that means you'll need a savings plan. Here are some simple budgeting tips to help you start saving for your financial goals.

    1. Pay for school

    Paying tuition and fees may be a top priority for you. If you’re wondering how to cover college costs — and start repaying your student loans — begin by looking at where you can make and save money on campus.

    Tutoring is a good place to start. There are always students who need some help, and if you've done well in a particular subject, you might be in a great position to tutor them. On the flip side, consider getting a job with teachers and administrators: helping a professor with research or student services with admin work is a good way to earn while you learn.

    2. Study abroad

    Another big financial goal may be to save enough to study abroad. If that's you, start planning now to make sure that you can make that dream of a fall semester or summer session in Argentina, Spain, South Africa, or China a reality.

    A popular way to save for this type of adventure is to fundraise. That can mean selling chocolates around campus, or setting up a campaign on a crowdfunding website. One useful tip: if you crowdfund, don't just ask for the money. Offer something in return, like photo portraits of the place you're going—maybe document your experience on Instagram. Or, to make the case that you're helping others, and are therefore deserving of funds from friends and family members, consider volunteering in whatever community you choose to study.

    To save money while you're away, learn how to cook. It's amazing how much you can save by eating in. And the better you are at preparing food, the more appealing it becomes. Swapping five $20 meals in a restaurant for a week of home cooked dinners will quickly add up.

    3. Take a vacation

    A bit like studying abroad, but with less books, taking a vacation may be another top savings priority. 

    One way to save is by cutting costs on your books, dorm furnishings and other college materials. Every semester, students move to other cities and universities and need to sell their second hand books, refrigerators, and everything in between. Tapping into this network through "swap and sell" social media groups is a great way to cut your own costs when the time comes to prepare for next semester.

    4. Buy a car

    A new set of wheels could be driving your savings goals. This is a big purchase, and it'll probably take a lot of time to save the money you need. So, as summer approaches, consider getting a full-time job for the break. Seasonal employers, like tourism operators and the hospitality industry, are a great place to start and they won't mind when you have to leave when summer is over.

    But remember the money you save is for your car, not summer weekenders. To help keep this goal at the front of your mind and save money as you earn it, download a budgeting app or enroll in an autosave program that allows you to track progress toward your financial goal.

    5. Buy a house

    You could also be looking at the long term and saving for your first home. Of course, this requires a long-term plan. To earn the money you need for your dream home, you may need a stable and well-paying job. Your education and work experience is the best tool you have to get there, so remain diligent and dedicated to achieving the best grades you can, while taking on work opportunities that expand your skillset. This will put you in a good position to pay off a house over the course of your career.

    Another thing you can do is start establishing good, lifelong saving habits today. A good goal is to save 10-20 percent of every dollar you earn. Today that might only be $10-20 a week, but over time that amount will grow...and so will your savings. If you add in a few of these other approaches, your savings may add up even faster!

    But, regardless of your savings goals or the path you follow to achieve them, one simple fact remains clear: Setting smart goals and developing simple plans to achieve them is the first step to help ensure that you come out of college moving in the right financial direction.

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