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College Financial Tips to Survive And Thrive


You can't concentrate on your studies if you're always fretting about money.


The key to college success is simple: organize your time and money.

There are 168 hours in the week. Figure 56 for sleep and 40 for school. That leaves 72 hours to socialize, work part time and, ahem, put in some extra time at the library.

You can't concentrate on your studies if you're always fretting about money. Here are some tips to help handle your bucks wisely:

  • Keep an accurate record of what you spend. This will help you stay within budget and show you where adjustments need to be made. Remember: Your budget means nothing without accurate accounting.

  • Shock your friends: Save rather than spend. It's easier to sock away $50 a month for six months than it is to come up with $300 in an emergency. So, open a savings account.

  • Don't confuse banks with the National Endowment for the Arts. Your bank gets grabby with fools, snatching money for things like late fees, bounced checks and unpaid credit card balances. With a little planning, you can avoid these charges.

  • Banks also reward the shrewd, so be smart with your money. Compound interest is the flip side of late fees. If you haven't discovered the glory of compound interest, listen up: The bank pays interest on your savings account each month. If you let the interest ride, it's added to your balance and the bank pays interest on the current balance plus the interest you earned the previous month. Nifty, eh?

  • Don't be suckered by sales. If you spend $300 on a coat that's marked down from $400, you haven't saved $100 – you've spent $300. If you doubt it, dig through your pockets for the money you've "saved."

  • Shop on price. When buying necessities such as ink cartridges or cotton balls, don't be bashful about clipping coupons and grabbing every student discount possible. Many businesses offer student discounts in an attempt to build loyalty that will pay off when kids start earning real money in the real world. Be on the look out for deals on everything, but don't buy simply because the item or service is advertised as being on sale. Scan the student newspaper for deals. The Internet may be your ticket to discount heaven.

  • Small indulgences quickly add up. If you feel virtuous because you only spend $20 a week on beer, do the math: that's about $800 a school year on suds. Make a similar calculation for pizza, movies – you name it. Don't let your entertainment spending overwhelm your school expenses.

  • Include entertainment in your budget – and stick to the numbers. Pulling a handful of crisp twenties from the ATM is easy – and sure to punch a hole in your budget.

  • Dorkiness pays dividends. If your school has a meal plan, use it as much as possible. If you don't participate in the plan, avoid eating regularly at restaurants, especially fast-food joints, because it will simultaneously flatten your bank account while padding your gut. Pack a lunch to save money. When shopping, buy the house brand at the supermarket to increase your savings. You were expecting gourmet swill?

  • Make payment deadlines. This just in: banks extend credit to make a profit. You can avoid being bitten by late charges and high interest rates by paying the balance on your credit card in full and on time each month.

  • Read the fine print . Don't be snared by a low introductory rate on a credit card. Read the fine print and you'll see that it jumps to 20% or more in three to six months. Don't use a credit card for routine living expenses or a night out. Remember: Anyone who runs an unpaid balance on a credit card – even for one month – is a sucker financially.

  • Keep banking simple. If possible, you probably want to deal with your parents' bank to make money transfers quick and easy. If that's not possible, shop around. Ask about fees, including ATM and dealing with a teller fees. Ask if overdraft protection is part of the student package. If not, see if you can cover possible mistakes by transferring the overdraft to a bank-issued credit card. Keep such transactions at a minimum because the bank will charge you for the convenience. Remember: Limit the use of your credit card and pay the balance due in full each month.

  • Tips can exceed hourly base pay. If you work part-time, grab a job that offers tips such as waiting tables, delivering pizza, parking cars or, if you're old enough, bartending. Hustle and you'll boost your earnings. Don't be bashful about odd jobs such as delivering roses on Valentine's Day or chocolate rabbits on Easter.

  • Cars eat money. If possible, leave the car at home. The insurance, gas and routine maintenance can quickly punch a hole in your budget. Most college towns are a universe unto themselves and everything you need is within walking distance of campus. If some friends have a car, great – chip in some money for gas for Saturday night and let them cover the other expenses.

  • Avoid the stupidity tax. Parking fines, late fees on library books or DVDs are a tax on stupidity. Pay your bills or time or you'll get whacked by a late fee or a stiff interest penalty.

  • Go downscale. Buy used books and, when possible, shop at second-hand stores to furnish your room or apartment. You can even buy some clothes secondhand. Nothing improves a corduroy coat like age – it's the "professorial" look.

The theory of success at school is simple enough – organize your time and money. It's the nits and grits of organizing your assets that requires practice and hard work

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