If you’re just entering college, then you’re probably about to start managing money on your own for the first time ever. Learning how to handle all of life’s little expenses involves a major learning curve that you should prepare for as much as you can.
Mistakes are going to happen from time to time as you learn the ropes. That’s fine, as long as you learn from those mistakes and use them to create better habits for your future. It’s important to realize that the financial habits you develop now will probably stick with you for the rest of your life.
So how can you start smart and avoid the most common financial mistakes so many college students make? The first step is to be aware of them. Read on to find out what NOT to do.
Don’t Skip Class Just Because You Can.
You’re in college and you’re a freshly minted adult. You can skip class if you want to, right? After all, no one’s going to put you in detention for cutting school anymore.
Here’s the thing: Yes, you can skip class if you want to—but you need to realize that you’re paying a lot of money for that class. Why would you waste something that you paid so much for? Even if your professor doesn’t care if you attend class (as long as you pass the tests), you’ll be jeopardizing your grade by missing the material unnecessarily.
Obviously, there are some good reasons for skipping class. But cutting school just because you can or because you spent the night before partying too hard amounts to money down the drain and potentially a failing grade—which means you may end up taking an extra semester to graduate, and spending even more money.
Don't Max Out Your Credit Card.
When you entered college, somewhere out there, a creditor’s heart skipped a beat. Credit card companies love college students. Why? Because they know that most students have no idea how to manage their money.
Since you’ll probably be taking on some student debt, it’s really, really important to control your credit card spending. Creditors may be predatory, but you don’t have to let them take advantage of you. This is where a budget comes in. You can budget for wants and needs, but don’t let those wants get out of control or you might be facing down some pretty serious credit card debt that will haunt you for years to come. Beings smart about your spending is the first step in avoiding additional debt.
Protect Your Identity.
You might be wondering—why would criminals target a broke college student? Unfortunately, identity theft among students is all too common. Student loan fraud, identity theft, and other cybercrimes are things every young adult needs to watch out for. The repercussions of these crimes can affect your credit (and thus your overall financial health) for years.
Common sense can help you protect yourself. Make your passwords strong, and try not to use the same ones over and over again. Be very careful about what you do on public Wi-Fi and about what you share over social media. You should also never give financial information over the phone unless you’re the caller.
Simple steps like these can really help reduce your risk of being the victim of fraud, but you can’t get complacent. You should monitor your accounts and look out for suspicious activity regularly so you can spot any signs of theft right away should you become a target.
Save, Save, and Save Some More.
It’s essential that you develop good financial habits such as budgeting and saving money while you’re still a student. When you’re young, you feel like you have all the time in the world to save for a home, a family, or retirement. But if you don’t start learning how to save now, you can find yourself 10 years into your career living from paycheck to paycheck like many other Americans.
As a student, you have lots of opportunities to save money. Student discounts, paring down your nonessential expenses, and taking advantage of your school’s resources are all great ways to keep more money in your account. Look into your bank’s offerings on savings accounts, too—putting your money in a less-accessible account (i.e., you can’t spend it with a debit card) can help keep you from spending.
The Bottom Line: Watch Your Bottom Line!
Just being aware of how much money you have and knowing exactly where it’s all going will put you ahead of the financial curve. If you get used to making a budget and having some restraint when it comes to what you want vs. what you need, then you’ll be well on your way to making smart financial decisions in the future.
If you find yourself struggling to manage your money, be sure to ask for help as soon as possible. It’s much easier to fix your credit if you act before the problem snowballs out of control. But the best thing to do, of course, is to remember to watch your bottom line before you start getting into trouble in the first place!
Sarah Daren has been a consultant for startups in multiple industries, including health and wellness, wearable technology, nursing, and education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life, including her position as a yoga instructor and raising her two children. When she's not watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practicing yoga and reading a good book on the beach.
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