College Money Mistakes

It’s a good idea to learn what college money mistakes to avoid early on. The newness of everything around us and the lack of parents looking over our shoulders can be a breath of fresh air, but it can also be a test of responsibility. Without mom and dad supervising and questioning the things we spend money on, the strings on our money purse tend to loosen up and we often get caught up in the thrill of independence and forget to pace our purchases.

5 Money Mistakes to Avoid in College

Unlike at home, when money runs out, mom and dad aren’t there to pay the difference for you. The college budget is almost always tight. Whether you have a job or are living on a set amount, it’s time to start learning how to save money in college now so that you don’t end up regretting it later. Here are some common money mistakes to avoid in college, especially your freshmen year:

1. College Dorm Necessities

Your dorm room will be like a sanctuary. This is where you can go to relax, to get away from people, to rest, and to do your homework when you need to be undisturbed. Your dorm should be a place that you can be comfortable in—that does not mean that it should look like a room on the cover of a Home and Design Magazine. Room décor, as you will find out, is not cheap, and the cost of all those little succulents and the cool, color-changing LED lights adds up.

Understand that while decorations may make your room look cool or feel more “home-y,” they are not necessities. The “college dorm necessities” are things like sheets, a towel, maybe a lamp (if one is not provided). Make sure you have those things before you invest in decorations of any kind. Limit what you spend on decorations for your room and if possible, DIY decorations instead. Yes, it should feel like home. But your home shouldn’t be bankrupting you—that’s what kids are for and there will be plenty of time to cry about that after college.

2. Coffee/Caffeine Fixes

With all the late nights coming your way, you will probably find yourself drinking a lot of coffee or caffeinated drinks; believe me, I get it. Coffee or some sort of caffeine fix to get you through those late-night study sessions or all-nighters to make up for procrastination is a must. But what isn’t a must is finding yourself at Starbucks or your local coffee/tea shop every other day to get yourself through the grind.

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The average cup of coffee from a coffee shop costs a little more than $3, and that’s just your basic black coffee. The average cost for a Frappuccino or flavored latte is over $4, depending on the size. While that may seem like a small amount to pay when you are standing at the register swaying to the smooth jazz playing through the speakers, understand that $3-4 every other day adds up. If you get 3 coffees a week, you are spending over $12 a week on coffee. By the end of the school year, going at that rate, you will have spent nearly $400 on coffee.

Instead, buy yourself a coffee maker. They cost anywhere from $10-20 bucks for a small, simple one, and a bag of coffee to get you through 1-2 weeks costs anywhere from $3-8. Or get a giant tub of coffee for about $8, and that’ll see you through about a month. You can still go to coffee shops now and then but learn to be sparing with those treats.

3. New Textbooks

Most classes in college will have required materials/reading. Sometimes they will just call them textbooks on the syllabus, but not always, so be sure to look for “required” or “necessary” or “your life depends on this” sections on the syllabus. It is important for you to have access to the material, but you will find out quickly that the “required material” is often not cheap. New textbooks are commonly over $100. The solution? Don’t buy “new” textbooks.

Your professor should give you an ISBN number with the listed textbooks on the syllabus, this will help you find the correct edition of the correct book that will be used in class. Use that number to find the book on google, ebay, or amazon and see if there are any “used” or eBook options for the textbook. Typically, this lowers the price significantly.

Amazon also has options to rent textbooks as hardcopies or eBooks, which is much cheaper than purchasing a new copy. If you rent a hardcopy, you will be expected to return it in similar condition to how you received it, so if you are accident-prone or a little messy, maybe an eBook is the way to go.

4. Eating Out

On a college budget, eating out should be considered a rare luxury. At most, I would say once every two weeks—if what you’re getting is fast food. If you’re more of a dine-in and “make requests of the chef” kind of person, then you’ll either want to limit yourself more severely, or change your preferences.

Most colleges offer meal plans. The average cost of a meal plan in college is $4500 per year, which usually covers three meals a day, at least five days a week. Being on a meal plan takes away most of the stress of figuring out when and what to eat, as colleges will have set times for meals or when the cafeteria will be open and will decide what is made. If you opt to use a meal plan, you should take full advantage of meals being provided for you and eat out as little as possible (especially considering you are paying for the meal whether you eat it or not).

If you decide meal plans aren’t your style, then learning to cook (ideally in a dorm/apartment with a kitchen) is your next best option. Meals prepared at home will end up cheaper per meal than eating out. Yes, most fast-food restaurants have a dollar menu or value menu; so, you can get a hamburger, fries, and a drink for roughly $5. However, if you have three meals per day and eat out for just two of them, that’s $10 a day. If you eat out like that even just five days a week, that’s $50 a week on fast food, which has almost no nutritional value.

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You could survive on $30 worth of groceries for the week if you limit yourself to only what you really need. Things like frozen chicken and veggies, rice, pasta, and canned goods are usually good value items and can go a long way.

5. Shopping

Retail therapy is a tough problem to tackle, especially if this is where you turn when life gets busy and stressful. And who doesn’t love a new pair of shoes, or a fun new sweater (or three) every now and then to spice up the wardrobe. Not to mention, new place, new people, new you; especially during the freshmen year of college, we find a lot of new interests and are likely to change our style as we immerse ourselves into a new experience. That’s okay, but perhaps find other ways to make changes—ways that don’t break the bank.

Shopping for new clothes or shoes, while at the time may not seem like a big deal, adds up and can become a sort of addiction. I have heard the argument that shopping is a girl’s issue, and before anyone gets the wrong idea, let me advise you: I have met many boys with spending problems when it comes to shoes, video games, and anime paraphernalia—no one is truly immune to needless shopping.

As obvious as it may be, shopping can seriously drain your wallet, especially while you are operating on a thin college budget. Before you turn to shopping to give you a boost when stress from school or work is getting to you, determine whether something is a need, or a want. Save fun shopping for times when you are home or very sparingly throughout the semester. You can still treat yourself to something new sometimes—just not every other week.

How To Save Money in College

How to save money in college can look just like how to save money in general. To save money, don’t spend money on things you don’t need. Now, that’s a general rule, but you also shouldn’t hole up in your dorm room, starving, and refusing any social invitations to go out that come to you. Keep track of what you have in the bank, check daily, and be wise about when you can afford to go out with friends for coffee, or dinner, or a shopping day, and be disciplined enough to say no when you can’t.

You don’t have to avoid experiencing college and having a social life to save money—you just need to be smart and disciplined with how you spend it.

For Information about Christian Colleges or Scholarships, visit The Christian Connector website here.