It’s never been harder to be a college student. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, college tuition and fees increased by 63% between 2006 and 2016, costing upwards of $26,000 a year. Picking a college — and taking on the student loans that often accompany the decision — is a lot to ask of an 18-year-old.
We want to help you make savvy decisions during college, so we talked to two finance experts who shared their advice on the ways that you can be saving for your future.
1. Buy digital or second-hand textbooks
If college tuition has become unfeasible for students today, then the cost of textbooks has become completely untethered to reality. Textbooks are 1,041% more expensive than they were in 1977, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report from 2015.
But if you don’t have the $250 textbook that your professor requires, your grade could take a massive hit. The solution? Don’t buy your textbooks new, says Kelly Anne Smith, personal finance writer for Forbes. “Many publishing companies are now offering digital versions of books, which can often be cheaper,” she says. “Also, it’s a good idea to rent a used textbook — university bookstores almost always offer this option and it can cut down the cost incredibly.”
We also recommend buying and selling your textbooks with other students. This way, you can recoup some or all of the cost at the end of each semester.
2. Skip those “treat yo’self” purchases
It’s easy to get caught up in the new-found freedom of moving out of your parents’ home and find yourself in a never-ending spiral of “treat yo’self” purchases. But you must resist that temptation. Here at Reviews.com, we are all for making memories and allowing room for spontaneity, but not if it means going into debt or taking out loans to accommodate an outsized lifestyle.
James Royal, investing and wealth management reporter for Bankrate, says, “A college student’s main financial priorities should be to minimize expenses where possible as long as it doesn’t affect their education.”
Smith agrees. For college students, “learning how to manage money and not overspend is the biggest lesson.” She adds, “In college, your cashflow usually isn’t too high — so the stakes are pretty low. I would take full advantage of this time to learn how to create a budget and how to adjust it as spending fluctuates each month.” To create budgets and monitor your spending, we recommend downloading personal finance software like Mint and You Need a Budget.
3. Avoid signing up for credit cards
If a credit card company approaches you on the quad asking you to sign up for a credit card in exchange for free pizza, our expert advice is: do not take the pizza. Student credit cards are often marketed to students as ways of building credit early on, but these campus-endorsed cards and accounts often come with high fees. A 2017 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report revealed that students paid more than $27 million in account fees with these accounts in 2016-2017.
There’s also the matter of self-control. With credit cards, “it’s easy to charge balances that can’t be covered in full each month,” Smith says. “Consider using a secured credit card — that way you know your limit each month and literally cannot spend above it.”
4. Ask for a student discount
Outside campus, the student ID you use to swipe into classroom buildings and pay for cafeteria meals is a lifesaver. There’s a reason that many people hold onto their student IDs long after they’ve graduated college. Smith advises, “Bring it with you everywhere and don’t be afraid to ask for a discount, even if it isn’t advertised. The worst thing someone can say is no!”
Here are some of the best cheap (or free) subscriptions you can get as a student (as of August 2019):
- Adobe Creative Cloud: $19.99 per month
- Amazon Prime Student: $59 per year
- Apple Music student subscription: $4.99 per month
- Office 365 Education: Free
- Spotify Premium for Students: $4.99 per month
- You Need a Budget: Free for the first year
- YouTube Premium: $6.99 per month
5. Invest now
If you’ve mastered the four previous tips, then you may want to consider investing. Even if it’s small amounts of money, it’s a valuable skill to learn early on. “One of the biggest hurdles for investors,” Royal says, “is understanding their own temperament and how they react to the ups and downs of the market. It can be valuable to do that before you have a lot of money in the market.”
Royal recommends a couple of different options to get you started with low-cost investing. He says, “You can trade for free with an app such as Robinhood, but if you want to develop a more comprehensive investing plan, you can turn to a robo-adviser, which will charge very little to manage your money (think $2.50 a year on a $1,000 balance). And with a robo-adviser, you can add small amounts to the account regularly, so even $20 a month will get you in the game.”
6. Keep an eye on the future
No one stays in college forever. Though the day-to-day challenge of staying afloat in college can be stressful, it’s important to keep in mind your goals for post-grad life. Ask yourself what that may include: A cross-country move? A low-paying internship to get your foot in the door? A new apartment or car?
“Students need to carefully consider their financial needs as they leave college and move away to a new job,” Royal says. “They may need cash to make a smooth transition — finding an apartment or buying a car, for example — and having the cash on hand rather than paying back a loan gives them more flexibility when making that move.”