College is a big chapter in one’s developmental years. From deciding on a career path and navigating living on your own to developing long-lasting relationships, there’s a lot to take in. However, managing your finances and setting yourself up for future success should be at the very tip-top of your list!
You won’t need to start this financial journey alone; we have outlined the tips you need including managing money and accessing additional funds to get you on track to have the best college experience possible.
Apply for scholarships and grants
Being able to afford your schooling is no easy feat. Accessing all the additional funds you can to lift some of that financial burden is critical—especially when that funding isn’t expected to be repaid! You have likely heard horror stories around student loans and how the debt you acquire through college can follow you for years to come. Well, unfortunately, the stories can be true, which is why we encourage students to explore grants and scholarships, as they are forms of student aid that come with no strings attached.
So, what is the difference between the two? Well, grants tend to be awarded based on a student’s financial need, while scholarships are usually awarded based on merits such as academic, artistic talent, or athletic abilities. The four main types of grants and scholarships are awarded through federal, state, school, or private companies/organizations. And throughout the 16 universities and colleges within Montana, each has these types of funding opportunities for you.
PRO TIP: If you are a returning student, request emergency relief aid. In March 2020, over $12 billion in federal funding was assigned to higher education institutions for relief and economic security. Half of that money is supposed to be used for emergency grants for current students. Contact your financial aid office to learn more and check your eligibility.
Establish a budget
A key to financial success is learning how to use and maintain a budget. You may not have as many expenses right now as you inevitably will down the road, but the practice of forecasting and planning spending and savings each month will help you stay organized and on track for financial stability.
Free up more cash
After crunching the numbers and sorting out your budget you may be eager to free up some additional funds. Lucky for you, we have a few ideas to get you started!
- Buy used or rent! Follow the expert Instagram thrifters’ example by buying or (better yet) renting clothes, textbooks, furniture, etc..
- Be your own bartender and barista! Your coffee runs and nights out will start to add up – especially when prepping for finals or ringing in the weekend! By making your own coffee and drinks you can put the money you would have spent to better use. Check out these cheap cocktails you can make from the comfort of your dorm!
- Ever heard of the senior discount? Well, just like our elders, you too can eat and shop at many places with a STUDENT discount. Use it while you can, that luxury doesn’t extend past your schooling.
- One sure-fire way to attain additional cash is to start a side hustle! With some additional money coming in on the side you will have more flexibility in your spending plan.
- Freeing up future cash is also important! Open a savings account that earns interest. Montana’s credit unions have fewer fees and are great for students.
Know the pros and cons of credit cards
Beginning to build credit at a young age will help you get approved for housing, get a job, secure more favorable terms and rates when you apply for loans, and so much more! One sure-fire way to start building your credit is by using credit cards responsibly; however, there is also no better way to damage your credit than by abusing said credit card.
To start your credit journey, consider getting a student credit card from your local credit union. A student credit card or secured credit card is a good way to build credit safely. No matter your credit card choice, stick to one card for now and have a plan prepared to pay off the balance each month.
PRO TIP: Don’t abuse your spending privileges, spend wisely, and above all, pay your bill on time each month!
Take a financial literacy course
No matter your desired degree or course requirements, it would be in your best interest to use the resources at hand while enrolled in college and register for at least one financial literacy course. A lack of financial literacy can lead you down an unforgiving road, so building a wealth of knowledge on financial principles is a must. Within these types of courses, you will learn the basics of money management: budgeting, saving, debt, investing, and much more. This knowledge base will help you begin to build healthy money habits early in life. You can browse some of the common financial literacy courses taught here.
If adding an extra course to your current workload doesn’t seem feasible, check out this resource that covers the hot financial topics you will need to know as you begin your journey of becoming money savvy.
We realize that there are many other aspects of your college experience you would rather focus on; however, giving your finances a little more attention and working to obtain these lifelong skills at this early stage in life will have your future self thanking you for years to come!