College is expensive. Unless you’re a full-scholarship student, you’re paying for college independently or with the help of your family. Textbooks can add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars, study abroad programs demand high fees up front, and even basic living expenses, like groceries, can become a financial drain. Though I’m fortunate to receive a lot of financial aid and scholarship support, I still find myself needing to keep close track of everything I spend in order to stay financially stable. It took me about three years to finally get the hang of it. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Make a habit of checking your finances. Set email alerts, download the mobile apps associated with your accounts, or set a time each week to check your balances. It’s easy to accidentally spend more in a week or a month than you intend to; regularly checking your finances can serve as a reality check each time you go over your budget.
- If you receive any financial aid, scholarships, or loans, schedule at least one meeting each year with the financial office at your school. Not understanding your university financial package can be costly. For example, some schools reduce your financial aid package if you win scholarships. At others, low grades can disqualify you for certain types of financial aid. It’s best to learn these things ahead of time than to learn them the hard way.
- Get a job, and try to find one that doesn’t add stress to your life. (Depending on your situation, you may even want to prioritize enjoying your work over a slightly higher paycheck.) It is much, much easier to work more hours, build a good relationship with your workplace, and ultimately make more money, if your work doesn’t feel like a drain on your mood and your energy.
- Learn to cook! It’s cheaper and healthier than eating out, and it’s a valuable life skill. Contrary to popular student opinion, cooking your own dinner doesn’t have to take two hours; my roommate, for instance, taught herself how to cook in freshman year, and has since mastered the art of healthy and delicious ten-minute meals.
- There are much better—and cheaper—cures for boredom and stress than shopping, eating out, exploring bars, and going to the movie theater. I’ve put effort into slowly replacing those habits with trying new recipes at home, exercising, meeting up with friends, visiting the library, or just taking long walks in new parts of town. Both my wallet and my waistline are grateful.
- Be mindful of what you purchase. Remember that you’ll have to eventually sell, toss, or carry everything you buy, and that owning lots of things is especially burdensome if you relocate frequently, which most college students do. Be conscious of the (probably small) size of your dorm room, or of your half of your apartment. If you don’t need it or really love it, you probably shouldn’t buy it.
Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament.