Wallet Hacks

40+ Money Tips for College Students

Do you remember the first day of college? I sure do.

I was excited. Or afraid. Or both. The idea of living on my own, hundreds of miles away from my folks and my friends, was daunting. I'd arrived in Pittsburgh just a few days earlier and even took some time to wander around the mostly empty campus of Carnegie Mellon.

It wasn't a particular large one in 1998, nowadays it's huge with construction going on all the time. You could walk from one end to the other in about twenty minutes but it was still pretty intimidating. After five years, a few degrees, and a wonderful college experience I left for the wonders of the “real world.”

When I started, I wish I had a list of things I needed to do to stay financially on track. So many of my habits were formed in those first few years of independence and having a list, even just a rough guide, would've been extremely helpful. I got out of school in pretty solid financial shape – no credit card debt and a reasonable amount in low interest student loans.

I first wrote this guide in 2005, just a few short years out of college, when the thoughts were still fresh in my mind. Now, over ten years later, I can go back with an eye of experience and really finalize this guide for this generation.

The Most Important Money Tip

One thing remains true from 2005 — Graduate college with as little debt as you can. 

Debt is a brutal brutal anchor that can hold you back more than anything else. If you follow just this one piece of advice, you will find yourself ahead of your peer group by a wide margin. Avoid credit card debt at all costs and try to keep your student loan debt to the absolute minimum.

Why avoid credit card debt? A $1,000 credit card debt at 18.90% interest will cost you over $200 in interest over the course of 25 months if you pay the minimum 5%, or $50. That's a lot of numbers to get thrown at you all at once but the point is – it's very very expensive. You will be paying for things long after you've thrown them out.

Second Most Important Money Tip

Have fun.

You will never have this level of freedom (no parents!) and direction (OK, but still go to class), take advantage of it. You will have no problem finding ways to have fun socially but experiment when it comes to your career as well. Investigate different areas, challenging assumptions of what your major should be, really use this time to break out of whatever track you think you should be on to explore other worlds.

Leave your comfort zone and try things you don't think you'll like… you may surprise yourself. (just be safe!)

Now, onto the rest of the tips.

Banking & Credit

Let's establish a strong foundation of banking and credit, the two cornerstones of your financial future.

Making Money

If you shouldn't be charging everything to your credit card or spending your student loan checks, where are you going to get money to live?

Saving & Investing Money

If you're fortunate to be earning a little cash and saving it, you may want to invest it too.

Spending & Saving Money

You know what they say about a fool and his (or her) money…

Everything Else

Here are a few tips and ideas that didn't quite fit anywhere else…

Finally, Get Creative!

You won't have a lot of money, but you'll have that noggin of yours. Use it!

Creativity is the mother of invention, as they say, so use that overabundance of time to get creative when you need to solve a problem. It could be a fun first date that doesn't cost a whole lot to checking out popular meeting locations to vulture food (and t-shirts! Find those free t-shirts!). You can save some money by being at the right place at the right time. That skill will pay off in the long run, even after you some pulling in the big bucks.