Student Finance Tips from 10 College Students

Student Finance Tips Primary Image (1)When a student goes to college, it is often the first time they are in charge of their finances. Without proper guidance, managing your money while attending classes, participating in extracurriculars, and hanging out with friends can be daunting. Although keeping track of your finances may seem at times like biting off more than you can chew, cutting the personal finance information you need to know into bite-size financial tips will make it easier to get a handle on your money. Take a look at the monetary advice from experienced students attending colleges and universities around the United States.


1. Open a bank account

Often, the first step in the financial process is the creation of a savings account. Besides your money being more secure than if it were tucked under your mattress, the money that you deposit into a savings account will accrue a small amount of interest, too. You can also check your account balance on your bank’s app. A student from Dickinson College shares his thoughts on the subject:

“Quintessential of everyone's introduction to finance is the process of opening a bank account. While it may be nice to see all your hard-earned cash sitting under your bed, it is even nicer to know your money is safe. Opening a bank account with an FDIC insured bank ensures that you will never lose your money again. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation protects you up to $250,000 if the bank defaults. More simply, the FDIC is the friend who will always pay you back if you give them money. If you ever need the money you deposited simply take out your new debit card or tap your phone.” 


      Nicholas A. 

      Dickinson College


2. Be creative in your job search

It is common for students to get a part-time job while attending college. Some jobs can be very challenging, while others are simple or boring. Instead of settling with the first job you find, it is smart to compare the advantages and disadvantages of each job. Yale School of Management student, Adeyoola, shares her experience with job searches:

“I would encourage other students to consider jobs that offer unique perks in addition to your paycheck. For example, a job at the school library might allow you to study or complete homework while not actively working, giving you more time to participate in extracurricular activities or attend social events. Working at the dining hall might offer free meals that help to save costs on food. Be creative with your job search and identify benefits that allow you to make money, save money, and enjoy your college experience.” 


      Adeyoola A. 

      Yale School of Management


3. Be aware of your spending habits

Spending money isn’t a difficult thing to do, but it’s especially easy in college. Your friends will encourage you to eat out every Tuesday at your local Mexican restaurant and then get ice cream after. Additionally, without your parents to tell you that you don’t need to buy another pair of shoes this month, things can get out of hand. Matthew from the University of Michigan writes about his experience with reducing his impulse buying

“I also try to practice restraint in my consumption habits so that I don't eat significantly into my savings. I try to limit eating out to once every two or so weeks, and I only buy things if I need them for school or if I believe they would make my life significantly easier/better/more meaningful. Viewing consumption through that lens, I can keep my spending low, and in that way, I can steward my financial resources in order to hopefully avoid student debt.”


      Matthew D. 

      University of Michigan


4. Sacrifice your dream school

Maybe it's the college your parents went to or the school with the best football program in your area, but it is likely that you have a dream school. Sometimes, that school has a price tag bigger than you could ever dream of, making it impractical to attend. In those cases, it is common for students to go to a less expensive college instead of accruing a large amount of student debt. Hear from Akua, a student at Ohio State University:

“As a senior in high school, I was accepted into Columbia University, Ohio State, and other schools. I was elated to receive my acceptance letters, however, the mood quickly changed upon viewing my financial aid awards. Most schools had price tags nearing $30,000 a year. As an aspiring OB/GYN, college is a must, however, I had to make a decision on whether where I went to college was an absolute necessity. Taking out a loan may have helped offset the cost, but I also had to consider the cost of my post-graduate education, and recognize that being a full-time medical school student would make it nearly impossible to work to pay off any undergraduate student debt. My parents and I sat down and after a long, difficult discussion, we decided it would be wisest for me to begin my undergraduate schooling at my local community college. Initially, I was devastated. Yet, over the past two years, I have come to appreciate the opportunities and experiences I was able to enjoy while attending community college on a full scholarship.”


      Akua A. 

      Ohio State University


5. Make college more affordable

Saving enough money for college is a tedious process. Because going to college is expensive, you most likely have to combine your income, gifts from your relatives, and loans to pay for it. Fortunately, there is a lot more financial aid available to the students who apply for it in the form of scholarships and grants. Elizabeth offers her advice on how to make your college costs more attainable:

“By reducing the amount of money I actually have to earn for college, scholarships are a worthwhile investment of time. I applied for academic and departmental scholarships at my college choice, and I searched for private scholarships for which I might qualify. I have applied for over thirty scholarships that I hope will reduce my out-of-pocket college expenses. I try to write for a couple of scholarships every week around my school and work obligations. While I will not win every scholarship for which I apply, I hope to win enough to help make my college costs more reasonable. By balancing work (guaranteed income) with scholarship applications (a chance of income), I hope to graduate debt free.”


      Elizabeth M.  

      University of Kentucky


6. Have scholarship perseverance

There are many students who depend on scholarships to be able to afford the costs of college. Although there are times when you may not be selected to receive a scholarship, fortunately there are even more scholarships available. CollegeData’s Scholarship Finder Tool makes it easy to find scholarships that you qualify for because the tool matches you with your individual characteristics. Read Sierra’s advice about not giving up on applying for scholarships: 

“Another piece of advice would be to have perseverance. You will not win every scholarship that you apply to. There are many students just like yourself who are in need of financial aid. With that in mind, it is vital that you understand this and continue to apply to any scholarship in your reach.”


      Sierra H. 

      University of Central Florida


7. Work first, play second

College is full of a lot of choices and the freedom to make any one of those choices. Some people choose to go to social events instead of class. Others choose to spend late nights at the library instead of going out with friends. One of the smartest things to do as a student is to get all of your work done before you have fun. Christopher, a student from the University of Texas at Austin, shares his advice on being disciplined with your studies:

“Most people might find time during the school day to relax and take a break from their work, but I ensure that I am completely caught up on all of my work before coming to a stop. Obviously I give myself occasional breaks from working, but they are never too extensive because I know that in the future, I will not want to do the homework after work on Saturday or Sunday. Personally, only worrying about school work during the week and working on the weekends has been an extremely efficient strategy for managing school and finances. Although it may be tempting, especially while doing school from home, to stop doing homework and do other things, getting all your work done as soon as possible is the best way to create downtime for yourself.”


      Christopher A. 

      University of Texas at Austin 


8. Build an emergency fund 

Although the old adage states “everything happens for a reason”, sometimes it is hard to understand why accidents occur. A financial emergency can happen overnight, that is why it is crucial to put three to six months of your income into an emergency fund. Having the cushion to fall back on will give you a sense of safety and security. Edwin from UCLA experienced an emergency firsthand:

“One of my long-term goals is to build an emergency fund like my parents. Recently, my family was involved in a car accident that cost us thousands of dollars, yet because they had an emergency fund, they were able to pay it off promptly without taking out any loans. Though the incident took a financial toll on my family, I aspire to be as prepared as they were at this moment.”


      Edwin M.

      University of California, Los Angeles 


9. Wait for your turn

Much like college, spending and saving money is not a “one size fits all” experience. You may have to take out a loan with a high or low interest rate to pay for your college. The next year, you might have to put your savings on hold to pay off credit card debt. Neither of these situations mean that you’re bad at managing your money, it just means that it is unique to each person. Saving money takes time and requires patience and discipline. Ayani from Georgia State University offers her advice on being patient:

“Know that sometimes, you might not get your desired result in the time frame you expected. You also might see others around you prospering in areas you struggle. The journey that one takes is different than the next person. Everything that happens to you builds character and instills lessons to use for the rest of your life. So, take baby steps and save the way it works for you!”


      Ayani S. 

      Georgia State University


10. Avoid comparison

Comparing your financial journey as a student can be very harmful. While some people are spending frivolously, you may be building credit and establishing your credit history, which isn’t as glamorous. Additionally, you may see people's stories and posts about how rich and fulfilling their lifestyle is while in reality, their bank account sits empty and neglected. A University of Central Oklahoma student, Lindsey, offers her knowledge on avoiding comparison:

“While other friends have gone on shopping sprees, frivolous vacations, and buying almost brand new cars, I stuck with my paid off car, saved my money, and took small vacations with family. There were many times I was jealous of others who were not careful with their money, but the day I got my associates degree with no student loans, completely paid out of my own pocket, was the day I realized it was worth it. I had to realize that although spending money without care was fun in the moment, it was not worth going into student loan debt while getting my associates.”


      Lindsey P. 

      University of Central Oklahoma


Breaking down the intimidating topic of finance into digestible pieces really helps college students get a head start with their money. From creating a budget to using your meal plan instead of going out to eat, these tips for college students can really help you become a better manager of your finances. Plus, learning from the success and failure of the college students who attended before you can put you at an advantage. The best way to have a healthy financial life is to live like a student-- making sacrifices and disciplined choices--now, so you won’t have to after college.




🎤Want more advice from students like you? Check out Personal Finance Advice from 10 Real Students.

🏫Could you use a $2,000 scholarship? Enter to win a 1st Financial Bank USA Financial Goals Scholarship.