While earning a college degree can be an investment in your future, it’s important to manage what you spend as a student so your post-college life won’t include the burden of significant college debt — especially if you’re among the nearly 25% of college students who have a credit card in their own name.
Here are some tips to help you manage what you spend, earn, borrow and save while you’re in college, so you can enter the working world feeling financially empowered.
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Track Your Spending
The average college debt among students who carry a balance on their card is about $466 a month, according to CreditCards.com.
Although that amount may not seem impossible to tackle, balances on an interest-bearing credit card that aren’t paid in full (which only 66% of college students in a CreditCards.com survey said they do) can climb higher than you intend — and lead to college debt you can’t pay off.
Know what you earn, what bills you must pay — and what you can afford to spend. Whether you prefer to use an app or to develop your own financial tracking system, create a monthly budget that outlines:
- How much you earn
- Fixed expenses: rent, food, utilities, cell phone bills, gas and insurance
- What you can afford to spend each month on non-necessities
Whether you check in with your budget daily or weekly, track what you spend so you don’t come up short on cash at the end of the month (and then be forced to rely on credit).
Ideally, your budget will put some amount of cash into a savings account each month, too. Then when you have an emergency expense like a flat tire or medical bill you didn’t expect, you’ll be able to pay for it in cash.
Make the Most of Your Time
College debt is easier to avoid when you can supplement your college experience with some income. Fortunately, college students can find plenty of side hustle opportunities that allow flexible scheduling and time commitments and, in many cases, the ability to work remotely.
Love to run or walk outside in between classes? Some sites frequently post opportunities for dog walking gigs that you can respond to based on your schedule and availability. No class on Fridays? Other sites could keep you busy with simple, remote gigs you can tackle at your convenience.
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Leverage Your Items of Value
NerdWallet says you may be able to lower your basic costs of living by jumping into the sharing economy.
In addition to renting out a spare bedroom, or getting a roommate, think about other items of value you already own: Got a highly coveted parking pass but typically ride your bike to class? Rent it to a student who’d be happy to temporarily use it.
Got a textbook you’ll never use again? Skip the trade-in process and sell it directly to a student who will take the same class the next quarter.
Be Mindful of What You Charge
If you have a credit card, it has a credit limit. While a creditor will allow you to charge up to that amount on the card, the amount of credit you use (called credit utilization or debt utilization) is the second most important factor in your credit score.
While most experts agree that you should not use more than 50% of your credit line, Bankrate recommends using as little 10% of your available credit). While it may be challenging to manage your credit line, doing so will help ensure that you’ll avoid falling into college debt that you can’t afford to pay. (Plus, managing your credit utilization may contribute positively to your credit score.)