Published: Oct. 10, 2023

Money jar with coinsCollege is an investment of your time and money. While being a college student can sometimes feel financially stressful, learning to manage your money can empower you to feel more in control of your budget and financial future. For many students, college is the first time you need to pay for things independently. Just like with any other new life skill, learning how to manage your money and avoid financial mistakes can take time. 

Here are four tips to help you with effective money management in college and beyond. 

Pay your bills on time 

One financial discipline to learn early is paying your bills by the due date. You can create a method that works to schedule your bill payments. For example, you can set up automatic payments through your financial institution or set reminders in your calendar. Ensure you have enough funds in your account to cover the payments and avoid overdraft fees.  

You can incur late fees and other charges when you pay bills late. You may also lose service if you pay certain bills late, like your cell phone or utilities, and companies may charge a reconnection fee to restore service. Plus, paying your bills on time can help you maintain a high credit score. 

If you run short of cash and can’t pay your bills, contact the company to make alternative arrangements. Sometimes, companies will work with you on a payment plan or offer an extension. Being proactive can save you money in the long run. 

Keep credit card balances low 

Many students get their first credit card during college. Learning to manage credit responsibly is critical to avoid long-term debt. While credit cards can be great for emergencies, using them for routine purchases can lead to financial trouble. Even if you intend to pay them off each month, it can be easy to overspend or pay less than the total amount when your monthly payment is due. 

The risk with credit cards is that they often have high interest rates with minimum payment requirements that don’t cover much more than the accrued monthly interest. If you only pay the minimum, you can rack up debt over time, which can be hard to pay off.  

Establish guidelines for using credit cards. For example, you may decide that you will only use a credit card to book travel and pay it off immediately. To make this work, you will need to save ahead of time to pay the balance, especially if you use it for a large purchase. 

If you already have credit card debt, you can establish a payment plan to start paying off the balance. Don’t lose hope or allow debt to overwhelm you. Many people have credit card debt. You can change your spending habits now to help you have less debt going forward. 

Create a spending plan 

Building a monthly budget can help you understand your expenses, avoid unexpected debt and plan for the future. You can start by keeping a monthly log of all of your spending. This includes set expenses like rent, car payments and internet service as well as varying expenses like food, entertainment, clothing and utilities. You can track your monthly spending using online banking or other financial apps. 

Once you know your monthly expenses, you can analyze your wants and needs to determine where to adjust your spending. For example, your rent should remain stable until your lease ends; therefore, you cannot change that expense. For items like food and entertainment, you can evaluate whether you have room to spend less or reallocate some of the funds. Look for ways to extend your budget and save money. Consider whether you are maximizing your meal plan instead of paying to eat out or taking advantage of free on-campus events instead of going out in Boulder. 

It’s important to keep your spending within your budget, whether you have financial support from your family, financial aid, student loans, employment or other sources. Creating and following a spending plan requires discipline and practice. Keep it simple and realistic. Schedule time to check in on your spending and money management. You can check weekly, monthly or when you get paid. Figure out what works best for you and your financial needs. 

Start saving 

Setting aside money to save can feel challenging, especially on a limited student budget. However, creating a savings plan can help you build an emergency fund, plan for next semester’s living expenses and avoid financial stress. Even saving a small amount each month can help you create healthy financial habits that can benefit you for a lifetime. 

Start by setting a savings goal. Based on your spending plan, determine how much you can save each month. Try tying your savings goals with other financial goals. For example, do you want to save for an upcoming experience, like studying abroad or attending a concert? Do you want to save for a down payment for a car or house? Or do you need to save for next semester’s tuition? 

One effective savings strategy is to pay yourself first. This means when you get paid, you set aside your monthly savings before you spend money on other things. Then, you try not to touch your savings until you reach your goal. However, you should not become overly stressed if you need to tap into your emergency fund. After all, the purpose of saving is to help cover unexpected expenses and reduce financial stress. 

As you incorporate strategies to better manage your money, remember to give yourself grace and stay positive. You may make some mistakes, but the key is to learn and work toward your financial goals.  

Find support 

If you are a student experiencing housing or food insecurity, you can access resources through the Basic Needs Center. Students can find emergency housing support, visit the Buff Pantry to receive free food and apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) all through the Basic Needs Center. 

To learn more about how to grow your money, attend the Investing Basics workshop, presented in partnership with Elevations Credit Union on Thursday, Oct. 26. Check out other events and workshops hosted by the Basic Needs Center in collaboration with campus departments and community organizations.