How to Manage Your Money as a Broke College Student

It’s not easy being a student these days — but has it ever been? If you’re in college, chances are you’ve got to live on a shoestring, especially if you’re away from home.

It can be difficult to focus on classes if you’re worried about money. And it can be exhausting to work a job in the evening, then wake up to attend classes the next morning, especially if you’re taking an exam.

Navigating tests, term papers, bills, and future goals all at the same time can be tricky. So here are some ideas to make things a little less complicated as you press onward toward your degree.

Create your own space

Whether you’re still at home with your parents or moving into a dorm or your own apartment, you’ll want to carve out your own spot for studying. You may not have a lot of room — especially if you’re sharing a small living space with another student, so you’ll want to make the most of the space you do have.

Plan enough room for the essentials, and think about doing a clean sweep of everything else. Leave it at home with Mom and Dad, or rent a dumpster to get rid of what you no longer need. Don’t worry: It won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Dumpsters can be rented, complete with pickup and delivery, for less than $300 a week. It’s even cheaper if you split the cost with neighbors.

Once your space is cleared, give some thought to arranging what’s left. Where in the room are you most comfortable? What spots get the best light and airflow? Where is it quietest? Consider the environmental factors, then go from there.

Plan out each day

When you’re juggling a lot of commitments, planning is essential. It’s easy to leave that term paper ‘til the last minute, or procrastinate and cram the night before a test. Spacing out your work will help you stay fresh and focused when you need to be.

Making a checklist

But that’s the easy part. There are times you might feel like a juggler at the state fair. Classes change from one semester to the next, and work schedules might shift even more frequently — not to mention study groups and other meetings — so consider tracking all your commitments with a scheduling app.

There are many affordable options to choose from, and they can simplify things for the busy student. You’ve got enough to think about already.

Do an inventory of your software

It’s important to make sure your computer is virus-free and has the latest software installed. More than ever, students are dependent on the digital world to study, conduct research, and complete assignments. Professors and schools typically require students to access information via a secure intranet and/or online portals.

Find out if your college, university, or any class requires specific software, and make sure you have it installed. Some programs can be accessed with student discounts, and others are even free.

Also, make sure you have an external hard drive, flash drive, or cloud location where you can back up your work. The last thing you need is to lose everything the night before a big assignment is due.

Map out your financial future

It may seem like it’s too early to think about your financial future when you’re still in college, but it’s never too soon to start surveying the big picture. If you’re thinking about taking out a student loan, research different options and consider how you plan to pay it off. Start budgeting and saving now, and set yourself up for success by establishing good credit.

Creating a budget

Student credit cards are available, or you can ask to become an authorized user on a parent or guardian’s card. With this kind of arrangement, you’ll have access to that person’s line of credit, but you won’t be legally liable to pay off the debt. And — here’s the best part — you’ll be able to build your credit in the process.

Getting there from here

What are your plans for getting to and from class? Work, rehearsals, lab sessions, meetings? If you’re not living on campus, you’ll need a way to get around, and skateboarding might not cut it if you’ve got a long way to go. Many schools offer satellite classes at different locations or are spread out across sprawling campuses that make walking a tall order, especially if you don’t have much time between classes.

Pedal bike leaning against a shed

A bicycle is one low-cost possibility, but if you’re in a cold climate where snow is likely during the winter, that may not be the best option. Public transportation may be available, but it might not fit well with your schedule.

If you can afford a car (and can have one on campus), it’s worth considering. And it might be more affordable if you choose a stick shift. Cars with manual transmissions cost less and can save money on gas because they’re more fuel-efficient, too. It’s an option worth considering.

There’s definitely a lot to think about as you head off to school, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. If you learn to compartmentalize, prioritize, and economize, you’ll be in great shape as you set out to conquer academia. The sky’s the limit!

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