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Updated: May 26, 2023

Money Chat: Tips for College Students

The MyBankTracker team sits down to discuss our college experiences and offer advice to students on how to save money while in school.
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As millions of high school seniors consider where to go to school and college graduates think about where they’ll go next, the MyBankTracker team thought it’d be a good time to look at our own college experiences. What money mistakes did we make? What tips do we have for saving money? And what advice do we have for today’s college students?

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Read part one of our discussion. Here’s some background information on the MyBankTracker team:

Claire: Attended a public, four-year university in California and majored in English, graduating in five years.
Daryl: Attended a public, four-year university in California and majored in English and communications, graduating in four years.
Destiny: Attended a private, four-year art and design university in California and majored in digital media, graduating in four years.
Kat: Attended a private, four-year university in New York and majored in communications and media studies, graduating in four years.
Gerry: Attended a public, four-year university in California and majored in English creative writing, graduating in five years.
Simon: Attended a public, four-year university in New York and majored in health sciences, graduating in four years.
Theresa: Attended a public, four-year university in New York and majored in psychology and anthropology, graduating in four years.

What money mistakes did you make in college?

Claire: What mistake didn’t I make? While I did have part-time jobs in school to help pay for little things like food and gas, the majority of my income came from my school loans. I wished I had worked more and taken out less loans.

Theresa: I don’t think I have any.

Daryl: Oh come on. Not one?

Theresa: Oh wait! I have one -- I regret buying expensive electronics for the dorm. I realized after freshman year that there are thousands of people trying to sell their fridges and TVs before leaving school for a lot cheaper than I bought mine, which were new at the time. Plus, they only probably used it for four years max.

Gerry: The one regret I have is not applying for scholarships regularly. That's free money that can help pay for the cost of education and help prevent you from accumulating debt.

Daryl: Yeah, I regret not applying to more scholarships, too. I guess i really didn’t know the amount of free money that is out there.

Claire: What about you, Simon?

Simon: I regret borrowing the full amount that I was given in federal loans. For the first two years of school, I was actually borrowing the full amount when I actually didn't need to  -- I often received refund checks because of that. It is easy to think that it was free money, but it isn't. I should have known to borrow just enough.

Kat: That’s a good one. Even though I needed all of the money I borrowed when I went to school, there are lots of students out there who know don’t know that you don’t have to use it all.

Destiny: For me, it’s planning for financial emergencies like ER visits, car maintenance, apt maintenance.

Daryl: You didn’t save a rainy day fund?

Destiny: Yeah. When I was sick, I would postpone going to the doctor. I didn’t have insurance at the time, so I regret not putting away a few bucks every paycheck -- especially since I was working at the time.

Tips on how college students can save money

Gerry: I would suggest college students actually create a savings account as soon as possible. Even if you put $20 aside a week, that can add up to a lot of money over the course of four years. In four years you can save over $4,000. That's a good amount of money to use as a down payment for a vehicle, to use for a trip after college before you commit to work, or to have as security until you find a job in your respective field.

Theresa: During college, I saved money by purchasing items that were on sale at the supermarket. I think I was able to stretch my dollar most effectively that way. I was stocking up on Oreo’s when they were on sale -- two for $5 or something. That way, I didn’t have to pay full price when I was craving them -- which was, like, always!

Claire: Back then, I wasn’t able to save money. I was the typical ignorant college kid with money to burn each time I could get my grubby hands on it. Now that I’m much older, I simply try to spend less. I set aside as much as I can for savings, emergencies, and my retirement.

Kat: I’m the same way. I try to spend less and set aside money whenever I can.

Destiny: My advice: cook at home! Also, the Internet is your friend! There are so many free services help keep track of spending and bill management. Sign up for online banking, use apps like to pay bills and use Google Docs to keep a monthly budget.

Simon: Open financial accounts even if you don't have too much money to save or invest. Online savings accounts and many brokerages don't have any maintenance fees, regardless of your balance. I had a savings account and Roth IRA in my junior year and it really drove me to learn more about personal finance and to make the effort to earn money to grow those accounts.

Daryl: Is that why you’re so rich now?

Simon: Haha. I wish.

Daryl: I’d say, more practically, just watch your spending. I didn’t seriously budget when I was in college, but if I had, I know I would have saved more money. I would have also sought other ways to save on the costs of books or food.

Any other advice you want to share?

Simon: Take advantage of campus events and clubs for education, entertainment and food. Part of your tuition actually goes toward paying for these events, so it would be wise of you to go to them.

Destiny: That’s good advice. I’m going to go back to food -- learn to cook and know where to shop for cheap produce. It will save you a ton of money in the long run. And as attractive as having your own place sounds, living at home will save you a ton of money, too.

Kat: I think the most effective way to save is to not spend. Period. If you learn to say no and deprive yourself from anything -- whether it’s a chocolate bar that sounds good to a bottle of water you're thirsty for, but know you can drink at home -- you'll save money. Easy as that. It becomes easier when you get in the habit of logically stopping yourself from buying anything that you want, and thinking about what you really need. I'm trying to get back in those habits, because I would be putting away a lot more of my paychecks.

Claire: Do your research. Sit down with your parents and figure out your budget for things like housing, books, tuition, a car, and travel expenses if your school is far or out of state. Utilize everything and everyone on campus who is available to help you when it comes to creating a stable budget and learning about what you should expect when it comes to school and your finances. Also, as difficult as it may be, when you receive a shiny new check each semester, do not blow it on something meaningless like clothes or shoes. Put it straight into a savings account and only spend what you need. If you do end up opening a credit card, be responsible! Ruining your credit at a young age is simply not worth it.

Gerry: That’s really good advice. I would tell college students to make sure to establish a set budget on a weekly and monthly basis. Sometimes you are going to have to say no to friends. You can still go out and have fun, just refrain from spending too much and facing financial hardship in college. Part of going through college is growing. You'll realize that you can still have a lot of fun without wasting a lot of money.

Daryl: Have fun -- but do it responsibly. That means being responsible in every way -- physically, mentally and financially. Take care of yourself and your pocketbook!

Theresa: Yeah, have fun and dig deep into the path you want to go down. But first, find what it is that you love doing! Oh, and study abroad!

Do you have college regrets or stories you want to share? Chime in on our Facebook!

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