Unless you're quite lucky, getting by financially as a college student may take some extra effort. It requires sticking to a budget, rank-ordering priorities, giving up some luxuries, and juggling many different challenges at once. The good news is that the financial discipline you cultivate as a student will help you build the necessary skills to stay seaworthy during your post-graduation adjustment period.
Financial self-discipline is a delicate balancing act. You must take stock of your wants and needs and align them with your true values while setting reasonable expectations for yourself. Be honest with yourself about what you can afford. If you splurge one weekend, take it easy the next. Or, better yet, plan ahead and save up for any extravagances beforehand, which will help you practice delayed gratification. But don't be too hard on yourself; your education is a marathon, not a sprint. When you strengthen your financial muscles, you allow yourself more flexibility and freedom for the relaxation and rewards that motivate you to keep going.
While financial discipline is mostly a matter of building better habits through patience and persistence, there are a few simple hacks that will give you an advantage when saving money as a student. Here are five actionable money-maximizing tips you can use now.
1. Apply for a scholarship
People are literally giving money away to students. Why not try and get some of that cash? Many scholarships are available for students who qualify, including non-traditional students returning to school later in their lives. A quick internet search will reveal scholarship aggregation engines such as scholarships.com, which should give you an idea of the abundance of scholarship opportunities worth examining. The University of Arizona Global Campus offers online scholarships for entrepreneurs, teachers, parents, and military spouses, and financial aid options are always available for future students.
If you have a job or you're involved in your community and you're considering heading back to school, you may be eligible for a relevant situational scholarship. Think about what sets you apart. When you apply, put in ample time and effort, so your full dedication and qualifications are on display.
Even if you're already in college, you may be eligible to apply for certain scholarships. If you're volunteering or participating in clubs, research, or other activities, this can give your application the hook it needs to grab attention. In many cases, the scholarship application process requires writing an essay. If you've written college-level essays as part of your studies, you’ve given yourself a tremendous advantage. Global Campus students also have access to The Writing Center and experts who can assist you with any challenges you may have with writing that winning essay.
If you have a job, your employer may subsidize or reimburse some or all of your tuition, so you can stick around while you enhance your skills. There is also the Lifetime Learning Credit, which can benefit students who aren’t independently wealthy.
2. Avoid credit card debt
If you're confident that you'll soon recoup your investment, putting college expenses on a credit card, or multiple credit cards, can seem like a tempting option. But if you enter your post-gradation period with significant debt, or if you can only keep up with your minimum monthly payments, you place a difficult burden on yourself and may stunt your professional and personal growth.
If you have a job and you can pay off your debt as quickly as it's accrued, maintaining a balance of $0, then it may not be a problem for you. However, missing even one payment can damage your credit score for the next seven years.
First and foremost, eliminate any existing debt. Then, do what you can to only spend money you have.
3. Use student loans appropriately
Student loans are intended to pay for tuition, books, rent, and other college-related expenses, exclusively. They should never be used for vacations or anything else that's not directly relevant to your education. If you use them for expensive items such as laptops, keep in mind that the interest may make these items much more expensive in the long run. If you use student loans, use them only to invest in your education, so that you can pay them back as your investment facilitates greater professional success.
4. Make use of deals and student discounts
When it's time to have fun and enjoy yourself, your student discount is a fun and exciting companion. Schools typically list local businesses that offer discounts to students. Use your research skills and investigate local Happy Hours, Taco Tuesdays, and fun free events around town. Education doesn’t mean you can’t have fun - you just have to get smart about it. When you're an expert on low-cost activities in your area, it will also help you build a stronger social circle.
If you don't need to drive a car, consider biking or walking as cheaper, healthier alternatives. If you don't drive far, consider pay-by-the-mile insurance services.
5. Prepare for money disasters
If there were only one rule of money management, it could be: "Never dip into your 401(k) to remediate financial emergencies." If you're a non-traditional student and you've been building your 401(k) for years, this can seem tempting, but it is almost never worth the risk or the compromise of future security.
Instead, open a secondary savings account just for emergencies. Automatically sock away some money at regular intervals. Train yourself to save and leave your savings alone unless you really are in an emergency. When the time comes, you’ll know, and you’ll be prepared.
When it Comes to Your Finances, Be Mindful and Think Ahead
Hardwire a productive routine into your life, and make sure to attend every class. Think of every class as a separate line item in your budget. Each class you skip is not just a waste of money, but a waste of the opportunity to learn something new and useful, or at least to get the experience of honoring your commitments.
The college experience isn't just about learning skills you need in the workplace. It's also a unique opportunity to develop your critical thinking skills and become the disciplined, accountable, and successful adult you've always wanted to be. Grown-up money management is a crucial component of achieving your goals, and part of the shift in mindset that can occur when you devote yourself to your studies and realize your full potential.
At the University of Arizona Global Campus, we believe that a drive for self-improvement is a prerequisite for any success in life worth having. Contact Global Campus today to see the opportunities we offer for those who are ready for a new challenge.
Written by University Staff