Is moving away from your hometown a stressful experience? How about leaving behind family and friends for a new city where you know no one? Starting a new school? New job? Sometimes going to college means all of those at once. To top it all off, the financial strain is enough to push a college freshman to the brink of insanity. Each freshman will have to figure out for him/herself when to sleep and how often to call home, but here’s some guidance to ease the fiscal stress:
Warning: dorm rooms are smaller than they appear
Since you only have a small living space, you can’t afford to spend your space on extras, so why spend money on them? Make a list of what you need before you go. Wait a week and reconsider every item on your list. Collaborate with your future roommates and check the policies at your dorm or apartment. Some items, like toasters or irons, are prohibited in dorm rooms as fire hazards, and you don’t want to arrive at your new place only to discover that you and your roommate brought two couches but no microwave. By only buying what you know you will use, you won’t spend money on items that will sit in your parents’ basement when you find that they won’t fit.
Food Isn’t Free
Consider your meal preferences before you sign up for a cafeteria meal plan. Plans may include meals in the cafeteria, allot money to spend on items a la carte, or both. Research your options to find the best fit for you, and if you prepay for a semester of meals in the cafeteria, use them. If you don’t, you’re throwing away meals you paid for and shelling out cash again for takeout. Even if you don’t have access to a kitchen to cook meals, keeping some basics in stock will help you save money and eat nutritiously outside of the cafeteria. If you follow weekly store specials and plan your meals a few days in advance, you won’t be scrambling at the last minute – at least not for your dinner. That research paper, however, is another story.
For the midnight studying munchies, keep staple foods to avoid the cost and the calories of late-night pizza or Chinese food. Whole grain granola bars, cereal, nuts, yogurt and fruit –fresh or canned –are all great options. College is a good time to kick an expensive habit: bottled water. Buy a reusable bottle and drink tap water; use a filter if you don’t like the taste. Tap is far more affordable and better for the environment than bottled and will save you from the sugar-induced roller coaster of sodas and sugary juice drinks.
If you go out for dinner with a large group, it’s best to know beforehand what to expect when it comes to splitting the bill. You don’t want to be stuck with equal shares of the bill if you ordered a small meal when your friends ordered steak and shrimp. A night in cooking a meal together can be an equally valuable experience with a much smaller bill.
Hoof It or Foot the Bill
How will you navigate your new campus? A car may be convenient; you can go home or visit other cities on weekends and get your groceries whenever you want, but you’ll pay for the ease. Cars already present a financial liability with maintenance and insurance; in addition you’ll be paying for fuel and, depending on your location, possibly hefty fees for parking. Even if you keep your car, carpooling home or to run errands splits the cost and helps everyone involved save money. It’s economical and environmentally friendly. So are biking and walking, in addition to fending off the freshman fifteen. The city buses are often available to students for reduced prices or even free, and student discounts are the norm for bus and air fare. Give yourself a chance to get to know your new campus instead of heading for home every weekend.
Call Me Maybe
Taking time to stay in touch keeps a student well-adjusted, but the chitchat may cost more than you think. Cell phone companies hit customers with steep charges for exceeding the minutes, text messages or data on their plan. If you’re tempted, shut your phone off during class. You’re in lecture to learn. After class, emails and social networking sites are free to use; Facebook, Skype and Google Talk are just a few.
Show Me the Money
When you’re searching the couch for change to do your laundry, a little extra income feels like a million bucks. Pizza delivery isn’t your only employment option, although working in the food service industry may mean free meals at work, which can be a time and cost saver. Research universities often have opportunities to be paid for taking a survey or performing simple tasks under observation. You can volunteer for as many as you can fit into your schedule and you won’t have to ask for time off during midterms. If your academic skills are the envy of all your friends, offer your services as a tutor, proofreader, editor or typist. Monetize your skills for income and the entrepreneurial experience.
Beginning higher education is major life transition. It may require adapting to a new living situation, a new daily routine and many other twists and turns. You’ll have plenty of challenges coming your way; by avoiding first-year financial mistakes, you’ll stay on track and keep rolling toward your long-term goals.