Most people go to college immediately after school and, having been supported by their parents up to that point, have no experience of looking after themselves financially. It is, generally, common sense – don’t spend more than you have. Nevertheless, many people find themselves in debt while studying at college, and this debt can take years to pay off. There are, however, plenty of ways to enjoy college while ensuring you spend sensibly.
Work out how you are going to pay
Some people are lucky enough to have parents who are willing to cover the whole of their college costs and won’t need to worry too much about where the money is coming from. Many others may need to apply for grants and scholarships in order to cover the costs; how you apply will depend on the country and area in which you live. Make sure that you know exactly how much money you are going to receive, then find out how much your fees are going to cost. This is important, because if you don’t have enough money to cover everything, you may need to look for other income sources. It is always worth asking for advice from your college about any funds that may exist for those struggling financially.
Keep a budget
Once you know how much money you are entitled to, start keeping a budget. At the beginning of each term, calculate exactly how much money you have and what you need to spend it on. This is particularly important if you are not living in college and are going to have a number of utility bills to pay. You will probably need help from someone the first couple of times you draw up a budget – it is easy to under-estimate bills if you haven’t had any before. The main thing you need to think of is how much money you have to spend on yourself, for treats and entertainment, because this will colour how you plan your whole term.
If you are living in college and your meals are included in your accommodation fees, then try to eat in college as often as possible. The food may not be brilliant, but there will be healthy options and it will cut down on a lot of food expenses. If you have to provide your own food, then learn to cook, even if it is only simple dishes at first. See if you can share the cooking with others to further cut down on costs. And cook in bulk, then freeze the portions you don’t need immediately – curries, chilli, spaghetti bolognaise etc are all dishes that freeze well.
Take advantage of student discounts
Investigate any student discounts. In the UK, for example, a National Union of Students card will entitle you to a discount in certain shops, restaurants, cinemas, public places and on public transport. Make sure you know which shops are applicable and always carry your card with you. You should also check for discounts and vouchers in papers and online. Many chain restaurants have two for one deals that will make a great evening out and a change from the usual dishes. Make it a habit to check for vouchers at least once a week, or you may miss the best deals.
Find the cheapest places to shop
Depending on your lifestyle prior to college, you may not be used to budgeting for food and clothes. Student discounts will be very helpful, but it is also worth spending some time finding out about other cheap places to shop. You may initially be put off going to discount stores and markets, but the prices can be very low. Look online for books and other equipment you may need for study – there are a number of price comparison sites that you can use to find the cheapest offer. And find out what time of day fresh goods are sold off cheaply at your local supermarket – provided you are going to use them straight away, or freeze them, you can get some excellent and very tasy deals.
Enjoy yourself cheaply
Most colleges will arrange entertainment for its students – there is probably even a bar where you can buy cheap drinks and food. Find out what else is on offer. There may be a film club where you can view cheap films and there are bound to be plenty of sports and hobbies clubs that you can join for very little money. You will have the opportunity to meet plenty of new people and, once you have done, you can start to organise your own entertainment; picnics in the summer, outings and, of course, cheap parties.
Find a part-time job
If your money doesn’t stretch far enough or you have expensive tastes that you just can’t shake, then you will need to consider looking for a part-time job. It may be enough to work a few hours a week, or you may need to look for something more full-time during the holidays – or even both. This is excellent experience for the future, especially if you can find something related to your choice of career. However, you do need to remember that your priority should be your studies and should plan carefully so that your studies aren’t affected too greatly.
Going to college can be a life-changing experience. Make the most of it while you are there, work hard and enjoy yourself, but never forget that there isn’t a bottomless pit of money to spend.