Best Personal Finance Tips for College Students

College is the time for new experiences and for many, it’s the first time to handle adult responsibilities like finances. This can make any financial decision seem overwhelming and confusing but it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re a college student in this situation, these tips and tricks can help you set yourself up for financial success.

Create a budget.

It sounds obvious, but creating a budget is an often overlooked step. Sit down and list out all of your expenses and what due dates might apply. It helps to write it all down or utilize a spreadsheet to keep track of everything so that you know what you’re working with. Once you’ve budgeted for rent, tuition, and other essential items like that, you can figure out what your budget for other categories such as entertainment should be.

Once you create a budget, it’s important to reevaluate it every few months. That doesn’t mean you should adjust your budget to allow yourself a larger entertainment fund, but in order to stick to a budget, you have to set a realistic budget, and that means you should let your real experiences inform your plan. If you find that you didn’t have enough bus fare during a certain month, you might be spending too much… or your budget might not be ideal yet. Spending time figuring out which one applies and acting accordingly will help you create a budget you can stick to.

Have an emergency fund.

While it might be frustrating to have money sitting in an account that you could technically dip into but you know you shouldn’t, it can save you a lot in the long run. Typically it’s recommended that you have several months of your living expenses in a savings account so that you will be fine if you lose your job or have a similar loss of income or support. However that may not be possible while you’re in college but that doesn’t mean you can’t have any kind of emergency fund. Try to keep at least $100 available at all times although $500+ would put you in a better position. A broken laptop or medical emergency could prevent you from completing your classes and moving forward in your college career, so an emergency fund, no matter how big, can help you avoid these setbacks.

Get a credit card but use it wisely.

In the United States, it is essential to have a credit score which includes a credit history. This helps you take out loans for both personal and business needs in the future and can even be considered when you’re renting an apartment or getting a job. Take out a credit card with a small limit like $500 or less and use it for some kind of regular but inexpensive purchase. For example, you can use it for gas or for groceries. In any case, make sure you are paying off as much of the balance as you can every month. It is also a good idea to compare offers to find the best credit card suited for your needs on websites such as and obtain resources to help you make better decisions.

You should also try to carry a balance that does not exceed 30% of your total credit limit. While you should ideally carry no balance from month to month, making sure you don’t exceed that 30% figure will make credit bureaus and banks look upon you favorably and help you achieve a higher credit score.

Be overly cautious about using student loan funds.

When you take out a private student loan and you are allowed to use it in any way to help support your education, it might be tempting to splurge a little bit and treat yourself to something extra. While the question of “Is this worth it?” can only be addressed on a case by case basis, it’s best to limit the amount you borrow if you can as you will ultimately have to pay a lot back in interest.

Buy used textbooks when you can.

Textbooks might sound like a small expense to those who are not currently paying for them, but those who are currently required to purchase them know that new textbooks can cost hundreds of dollars. Although it might be easier to head to the campus bookstore and pick up the copy of the textbook that your professor assigns, it’s always worth browsing sites like Chegg or AbeBooks to see if you can find last year's edition of the textbook which is often mostly similar and can serve the same purpose.

Secure a source of income.

Although it might be challenging to juggle a full-time job with your coursework, it’s a good idea to get some kind of revenue stream to allow yourself some financial stability. You could try your hand at freelancing online, work at a local convention or festival, or consider pet sitting. These types of work offer more flexibility than traditional jobs which can be ideal during college. They can also be jobs where you work on weekends, and only on certain weekends throughout the year.

Although navigating financial situations can be difficult and it’s not always possible to stay debt-free and handle your money in a totally responsible way, it’s important to do everything you can to stay ahead of any difficulties. These tips can help you avoid stressful situations and leave college either in an ideal financial situation or poised to be in one.