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11 Financial Tips for First-Year College Students

From packing everything a person owns into a cramped double to figuring out how to work the laundry machines and make it to class on time, the first year of college is chock full of life lessons. There’s a lot of learning to be had, but some lessons won’t pay. With so much on a student’s plate the first year in school, these financial tips for college freshmen could help a student save in the long run.
We’ve also added some suggestions provided by our Twitter followers participating in SoFi’s #MoneyMonday sweepstakes prompt “What tips do you have for first year college students?”

Creating a Budget

The one piece of advice that was given the most by our followers on Twitter was to create a budget.

“Make a budget and stick to it!” -Lindsey
“Budget – Budget – Budget!!!” Bob M.

If there’s no budget in place, there’s no framework to stick to.Saving money in college can feel like an impossible task, but having an effective budget in place can help. Starting the college experience with a budget in place can help curb impulse purchases, and can actually relieve some of the pressure around spending. If a student knows how much money they can allocate for, say, going out, it could be easier to say no to the pressure of a spendy night out with friends.

Creating a budget in college means anticipating both estimated expenses, like club dues, tickets to athletic events, and books, as well as “for sure” expenses, things like rent or room and board, utilities, and tuition that are essential in the college experience. From there, it’s about determining what money can be allocated to fun things, like nights out and spring break.

An important part of creating a budget is tracking money in and out. That might mean a classic pen and paper, spreadsheet, or app, like SoFi Relay.

Using Credit Cards Wisely

Many of our Twitter followers have personal tips around credit cards for new students.

“Don’t make credit card purchases that you can’t pay off in full each month!” – Gina G.
“Start Building Credit” – Amy N.

Credit card usage can fall under budgeting, but the risks associated with it warrant a tip of their own. 36% of all college students in the US have more than $1,000 in existing credit card debt. Having a budget in place can help a student avoid carrying a balance each month.

The risks of overspending on a credit card might dissuade students from using them during their college experience, but having one and spending wisely can help college students build credit . Building credit can help a young person improve their credit score. Post-grad, a strong history of on-time payments and responsible spending could make it easier to rent an apartment, apply for a car loan, or start a personal cell phone plan.

Always Asking for a Student Discount

Another college tip from our Twitter followers:

“Check for student discounts! They’re everywhere!” – Nicki

Many stores offer discounts for current students. To take advantage of them, keep your student ID handy while shopping. Students will find a variety of discounts—from 15% off in-store purchases at J. Crew , to discounted admission to museums and professional sports games . And as the old adage goes, “You can’t get something you don’t ask for,” so don’t be afraid to ask if the store, service, or experience offers a lower rate for customers enrolled in school.

Taking Advantage of Campus Amenities and Services

Don’t be afraid to seek out and take advantage of the many “freebies” or heavily discounted services offered on campus. That means a wide range of services are offered for free, or deeply discounted for the student body. Pay close attention during orientation to determine services the campus might offer. Students can typically expect one or more of the following:

From on-campus movie nights to free choral concerts or speakers, there’s often lots of free entertainment to engage with on campus.

Similarly, health services are typically offered for free, or at a steep discount for the student body. Whether it’s the common cold or a student’s seeking out one-on-one therapy, they might consider going to the student health center, where they’ll likely save considerably compared to a walk-in clinic or therapists’ office. The cost of some services at on-campus health centers may depend on the type of insurance a student has, so it can be worth reviewing the specific policy at your school.

Finally, it might not be the most glamorous dining, but campus clubs, events, and lectures may offer pizza and catered meals. There’s no shame in grabbing a free meal and learning something new.

Buying Used

Sure, there’s something undeniably exciting about an untouched laptop, and a textbook with an uncracked spine, but buying used can lead to significant savings. On average, students spend $415 on required books and materials each school year, and an additional $527 on technology and other supplies.
Here’s a tip from one of our Twitter followers:

“Buy used books and sell them back at the end of the semester.” – Karen B.

Buying used textbooks can save students from paying the sticker price, but if it’s not possible to find a material used, consider selling it back for cash at the end of the semester.

Similarly, buying a refurbished phone or laptop can lead to big savings, and could be especially helpful for students who don’t need the latest software or programs for their classes. A gently used laptop will cost less than a new one, and in many cases, will work just as well.

Consider looking into a certified refurbished laptop from the manufacturer, or purchasing a used phone from a trusted resale site . It might be a novel concept for some students, but 80% of people who bought their cellphone second hand were satisfied with the purchase.

Learning to Cook

“The best advice is learn to cook, save on not eating at restaurants and your waist wand wallet will be happy.” – Yolanda H.

With a busy first-year schedule, the temptation to eat out, or order in, is very real. But, by learning to cook and eat meals at home, or in the dorm, students can save big time. An average meal at home is on average $16 cheaper than eating out. If a student can swap even one meal out a week for cooking at home, they could save over $800 in a year.

Cooking in a dorm room can be tricky, but some residence halls have communal kitchens students can use. And, you may be surprised by how much good food you can make with just a microwave.

Learning to cook probably won’t mean culinary masterpieces every day, but it will mean more cash on hand for nights out or occasional special meals at restaurants.

Opting Out of Boutique Fitness Classe

Adapting to the college routine can be stressful, and studies show that exercise can relieve stress, and keep a person feeling healthy.

That being said there’s no need to leave campus and shell out, on average, $34 for a boutique fitness class when most college campuses offer state of the art gyms and deeply discounted, or free, group training sessions.

Before seeking out the latest fitness craze off campus, think about checking out the school’s gym and workout facilities. Most students won’t be able to beat the pricing (free) and proximity to campus. Pass on paying out of pocket for fitness.

Considering a Job

With money going out, some students might consider a side hustle to bring cash in during the school year. Based on a student’s financial need, they may be eligible for employment through the work-study program.

If a student isn’t eligible for federal work-study but wants to make money, they might consider applying for work off-campus. Flex work, like babysitting for campus staff or faculty, or offering private tutoring lessons to nearby high school students, could also be simple ways to make cash without eating into campus commitments.

Here’s what our Twitter followers had to say about jobs during school.

“Get a part-time job on campus to help with small expenses. It is a good thing to do some work and have pocket money.” Kris O.

“Work as much as you can, save and pay student loan interest now. You will thank yourself later.” – Marisa K.

Re-Thinking Having a Car on Campus

Twitter followers had ideas about transportation as well.

“Use public transportation and don’t immediately buy a car if you can, they can be a money pit!” – Holly

Students considering bringing a car on campus might want to think twice—the true cost of owning a car can range anywhere between $11,000 to $5,000 a year , based on the vehicle’s age. That doesn’t account for the cost of keeping a car on campus, which might include parking permits or the ongoing cost of parking meters.

If having a car on campus is more of a want than a need, consider looking into public transportation or bringing a cheaper form of transport, like a bike, to school in the fall.

Going to Class

For many first-year students, their course load is 101 classes in large lecture halls. And when attendance is not required, it’s tempting to hit the snooze button and skip a lesson or two.

However, skipping a class for no reason is essentially flushing tuition dollars down the toilet. A bulk of tuition payments go towards the faculty and facilities where classes are held. When a student skips a class, they’re losing some of the value in their education.

It’s not exactly saving money, but missing class means the money already paid is wasted.

Smart Student Loans

Here’s the thing, spending wisely in college can help keep a student out of more debt, but with the average cost of tuition to attend a private four-year institution set at $35,830 per (in-state public tuition is $10,230) chances are most students will need some additional help.

Grants, scholarships, and federal student loans might go part of the way, but when these and other options are exhausted, private student loans can help fill the gap. One option to consider is SoFi’s private student loans, which offer competitive interest rates to qualifying borrowers. The process is entirely online and students can pay back the loan their way with flexible repayment plans—and absolutely no fees.

Learn more about private student loans at SoFi.

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SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

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