4 Financial Tips For College Freshmen

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A gross-looking buffet.

You’re young—you can rebound from any buffet-related indigestion.

A couple months ago, I shared my tips for recent high school and college grads. Well, former high schoolers—the gig is up. Back to reality. The fall semester is here.

My baby bro is one of those wide-eyed freshmen, and I don’t want him to make the same mistakes my friends and I made. So listen closely, y’all—big sis is talking.


Here are my four most valuable financial tips for the freshies! Trust me—old habits die hard, so start good ones now and reap the financial benefits big time.

You’re an adult now (sort of). Have some forethought.

1. It Sucks, But Eat The Buffet

Most universities have two major eating options: buffet-style cafeterias and per-plate “restaurants.” When I was in school, the buffet was $4 and the restaurant was anywhere from $6 to $10, depending on the dish you decided to get.

Our form of payment was called Dine-In Dollars, with a pre-paid balance for the entire school year. Eating a $10 meal twice a day will swiftly ensure you’re hungry before midterms start. Save your cash and dine buffet-style. Old macaroni and all.

2. Don’t Shop At Campus Stores

Fact: A quart of milk at a campus convenience store is wildly overpriced. The store knows that. They also know you’re probably too lazy to get on a bus or bum a ride to the nearest Walmart. Prove them wrong!

Also try to avoid drugstores like CVS and Walgreens for any major grocery shopping. An emergency box of Cocoa Puffs, sure. Just don’t buy 2 weeks’ worth of groceries there!

3. Use Your School I.D.

Be that person. Ask the cashier if there’s a student discount. More often than not, there is. Usually flashing your student I.D. will save anywhere from 10% to 20% on movie tickets, bus passes, software, computers, and clothing at the mall.

No, you won’t morph into an extreme couponer, but it’s important to get in the mindset of trying to save a little cash. You’re at the bottom of the food chain, kid. You can make it rain in a couple years when that diploma gets you a Grown Up Job.

Speaking of life after college, remember …

4. Loan Money Is Not Real Money

I REPEAT: Loan money is not real money!

Although there are two types of philosophies on student debt, I still suggest you accrue debt only when absolutely necessary. Getting that financial aid award feels like winning the lottery—and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

My alma mater automatically paid my tuition and on-campus housing with the loan and then put the rest in my bank account. See how it’s easy to think this is your cash? I’ve seen students use that money for spring break and shopping sprees. Please don’t do that!

Did you know you can usually give that money back and reduce your loan balance? If you keep in mind that it wasn’t your money to begin with, it’s less painful to turn down. My dad told me to keep about $500 for books and other school-related investments and return the rest. “You should be getting scholarships anyway,” he’d say.

If you follow these four tips, you can’t go wrong. Share them with your friends—be money savvy together so you can spend time focusing on your studies. Good luck!

Have a tip for a college freshman? Pass it along in the comments!

(Photo: wonderyort)

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  1. Michelle August 29, 2013 / 5:01 pm

    Definitely use your school ID! I still carry mine around :)

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