Luisa Rollenhagen is a journalist and investor who writes about financial planning for Wealthsimple. She is a past winner of the David James Burrell Prize for journalistic achievement and her work has been published in GQ Magazine and BuzzFeed. Luisa earned her M.A. in Journalism at New York University and is now based in Berlin, Germany.
College is often portrayed as “real life lite,” but the truth is that the decisions you make in college will affect you for years to come. This includes your financial choices. With all the tuition, student loans, expensive textbooks, jobs, and parties, it can seem like being perpetually in the red is a student's fate. But it doesn't have to be that way. Here's how to do it.
Start saving before you even enroll
First, there are some things you can do before you even move into your dorm, such as consider if you really want to pay off student loans for the rest of your life. Are there some good in-state options you could take advantage of since those tend to have reduced tuition for state residents? You might think that your dream school will be worth the high price tag, but the truth is that you’re more likely to get a better start after college if you’re not weighed down by thousands of dollars of student debt for a long time.
Speaking of student debt: if you do need to take out a loan, do your research. In the US, the average student graduates with $37,172 of debt, and that can quickly spiral out of control if you combine high-interest rates with low entry-level salaries. Find out what the interest rates are, and don’t borrow more than you expect to earn in your first year. As a rule of thumb, if you hope to have a starting salary of $40,000 a year, try not to borrow more than that.
Try and get a scholarship
Apply for scholarships and grants, which don’t need to be repaid (yay!). Check out the scholarship and financial aid options at the universities you’re applying to, but also look at other sources. These scholarships probably won't cover all of your tuition, but they’ll save you thousands of dollars you’d otherwise have to borrow and pay back with interest.
Find a job on campus
Check to see what kind of on-campus and off-campus jobs are available at your university. Usually, universities have a certain number of jobs reserved for students — jobs with flexible work schedules. Also keep an eye out for babysitting, tutoring, barista work or anything else compatible with a week’s worth of classes. If you’ve already started working before you hit campus, you’ll have some money saved up before you even fall asleep in your first Philosophy 101 lecture.
Consider living at home
Living at home allows you to save on rent, food, utilities, and laundry (things that make up a huge percentage of the average person's monthly expenses). Sure, the benefits of living at home come at the expense of your sanity, privacy, and the “college experience.” Keep in mind that most normal “college experiences” involve living in ridiculously close proximity to a complete stranger who will either become your best friend (not so likely) or a punchline you talk about at happy hour a few years later (highly likely).
Have a good relationship with money
Begin forming healthy financial habits early by keeping track of your expenses. This habit will set you up for a stable financial future. Start figuring out how much you’re going to be spending per month once you’re in college, including your meal plan, rent or dorm payments, laundry, textbooks, and nights out. See where you can afford to cut back, and take it from there.
Another thing you can do is to start investing a small amount in a personalized, no-stress portfolio. You might be wondering whether it’s too early to start investing, but the truth is that if you don’t have lots of debt built up right now and can afford to put a small bit aside every month, then there’s no reason not to start in college.
Best ways to save money in college
Once you’re actually in college, knee-deep in midterms, red Solo cups, and unwashed laundry, there are plenty of strategies you can employ to ensure you still have enough funds in your bank account to buy food that isn't instant ramen.
1. Take advantage of your student discount
That student ID doesn’t just open doors on campus; it opens the door to a vast number of discounts. From theatres to store discounts to cheaper rates on public transit, a student discount is a glorious benefit you’re going to miss when it’s gone. Trust us.
2. Buy generic instead of branded goods
Supermarket food, pharmaceuticals, cleaning supplies, etc. The generic is usually just as good as the name-brand stuff, and way cheaper.
3. Attend free events that serve food
Everyone knows that the best kind of dinner is a free dinner. And colleges are full of free food if you know where to look! Keep a lookout for college clubs and organizations hosting introductory meetings or information sessions. Sitting through a presentation about model UN that includes free pizza is an act of diplomacy and finance.
4. Learn to cook
You might think that dollar pizza and the value menu at fast food places are heaven-sent, but a) all of that will still add up, and b) your body will hate you. Learn to cook a few basics. Boil an egg, steam some veggies, do something interesting with that ramen. On that note:
5. Invest in a thermos flask
Make your own coffee and bring it to class instead of buying some overpriced, sugary latte every day. All those cinnamon Nutella soy milk lattes add way up. (One of the best ways to save at any age is cutting back on gourmet coffee.)
6. Become a master at second-hand shopping
Hit up your local Goodwill, Salvation Army store, or even eBay and Craigslist to find great deals on anything from books, clothes, shoes, and home decor. This also doubles great as a hang-out activity with friends.
7. Skip the car
If there’s reliable public transportation where you live, save yourself the hassle and cost of owning a car. Get yourself a bicycle instead. You’ll be helping your wallet and the environment.
8. Work out for free at your campus gym
Yeah, it’s not Soul Cycle. It smells a bit funny, and that strange kid from your biology class is always hogging the elliptical. But. It's. Free.
9. Don’t buy textbooks you’ll only need for one semester.
If you know you’ll only be needing a book for a semester, see if you can rent it, get an online version, or buy it cheaply from someone in a year above you. Also, don’t sleep in the library; It’s a great place to get a lot of your books for class. Just make sure you don’t wait until the last minute, or you may find them all checked out already by a more entrepreneurial classmate.
10. Save your spare change
Save, save, save. Get a piggy bank or better still an app to save up your spare change you’d otherwise leave languishing between your couch cushions or wasted on gum. It may not look like much, but those cents add up.
Tips to save money in college
In addition to developing healthy financial habits and keeping a lookout for all things free or discounted, there are also some long-term saving strategies that financially savvy students should keep in mind.
Sign up for a free checking account
Banks will offer free checking accounts to students, which are crucial for any form of money management.
Get a high-interest savings account
In addition to the checking account, now’s a good time to sign up for a savings account too. Look for a savings investment accounts with high-interest rates so that you get the most out of your savings, regardless of how meager it might be.
Live within your means
Ultimately, you don’t need to buy the newest iPhone or the most high-end vodka for your dorm parties.
And if you’re ready to go beyond just saving and actually want to start investing but aren’t sure how then Wealthsimple has you covered. Signup now to get a personalized, diversified portfolio, supportive financial advice, and low fees. It’s a great way to start building up for your financial future.