College is an exciting time for most students; however, it comes with its fair share of challenges, such as learning how to manage personal finances and making decisions that will set you up for success down the road. Creating a plan now and sticking to it throughout your college career will help you graduate and enter the workforce with confidence. Here’s how to build a solid financial foundation during your college years.
Create a Budget
A budget is simply a plan for how you'll spend your money each month. To make your first budget in college, start by making a list of your fixed expenses, such as rent, tuition, books, car payments, utilities and food. Next, make a list of your discretionary expenses such as clothing and entertainment. Add both your fixed and discretionary spending together, then subtract that from your income to make a basic budget. Your income includes the money you earn from working, student loan refund checks, side job earnings and any money your parents may provide regularly.
If you have no clue what you're spending in these areas, you may want to sync your bank account to a budgeting app to track your purchases. Through Bank First’s online banking platform, you also have the ability to view and categorize your spending, allowing you to easily see where your dollars are going. Until you know what your monthly expenditures are and what you're spending the most money on, you'll have a harder time making a realistic budget to work with.
Minimize Student Debt
Minimizing the amount of student debt you take on now will set you up for financial success down the road. One of the most important things you can do is borrow only what is required. If you need to take out student loans, make sure the funds are going toward college expenses, such as housing, books, and tuition. While tempting, taking out more cash than needed to fund an extravagant campus lifestyle may cause problems in the future. Start living within your means now so that you’re not paying interest on things like a bigger dorm room, expensive nights out, or other material items later.
You can also minimize student debt by funding non-education spending with a side job or internship. Work-study positions on campus usually offer the flexibility a student needs with the convenience of location, while some off-campus positions may pay more. Either way, developing a “pay now” policy for nonessential purchases is a great way to avoid paying for them down the road, with interest.
Struggling to find a job while at school? Most colleges and universities offer an online Student Job Board where you can search for part-time jobs. Find anything from being a nanny, dog-walker, or waiter/waitress to an internship in your field that could potentially lead to a full-time position post-graduation.
Protect your Personal Information
When it comes to identify theft, college students are some of the hardest hit and the most oblivious to the crime. According to Javelin Strategy and Research, the 18 to 24 demographic has the highest risk for identity theft, and the average individual from that demographic took 132 days to detect and report the fraud.
To protect yourself from identity theft, do not share personal information. Never give your password to a friend or roommate, do not provide your Social Security Number where unnecessary, and do not leave personal documents lying around.
To catch identity theft before it goes too far, you should check your bank and credit card accounts regularly. Signing up for online and mobile banking is a great way to monitor your transactions for anything unusual. Downloading the CardValet app from Bank First will allow you to take a proactive approach in deterring fraud on your account. You can use CardValet to turn your card on and off, set locations where the card can be used, restrict transactions, establish limits, and schedule alerts for certain transaction types. To learn more on how to protect yourself from identity theft, visit our Security Center.
Transfer Money Wisely
If your parents are helping out with college expenses, transfer money wisely. Instead of giving cash or writing a check, use a prepaid, reloadable gift card. Because they are convenient but don’t carry the overspending risks often associated with credit cards, prepaid cards can be used to help you learn how to manage funds. Parents can safely give a card to their child to pay for college expenses, such as food and books.
Are you splitting the cost of rent or food with roommates? Transfer money safely with popmoney. With popmoney, you can send people funds just as easy as it is to email or text. Simply log into your online banking bill pay platform and enter the recipient’s email address or cell phone number. The recipient will receive an email or text allowing them to safely accept the funds from your bank account.
Look for Student Discounts and Incentives
College students should become experts at exploring the ways their educational status can save them money…or even better, earn money. Vendors, local venues, restaurants, gyms, and services near college campuses often offer student discounts that could save you loads of money while in school. Did you know Bank First offers a Student’s First account designed just for high school and college students? With this account, you’re able to earn a more competitive rate and access products and services tailored just for you, such as ATM fee reimbursements and free peer-to-peer popmoney transfers.