It’s your last year of college and you are focused on making sure that you actually graduate and hopefully find a job that will help you pay your student loans and also be able to afford to eat something other than ramen.
But making smart financial choices doesn’t have to wait until you get your first post-graduation job. There are things you can do right now to help you save money, stay out of debt, and get your finances in the best shape possible for full-on adulting after college.
Start Budgeting Your Money
If you haven’t started doing this yet, now is the time to start budgeting. Call it a spending plan, cash envelopes, whatever it takes to get you in that money tracking mindset. Budgeting is all about taking control of your money and deciding exactly what you want it to do for you.
Using a free budgeting app like Mint.com can help easily merge all your finances, budget, pay bills, and even track your credit score. Once you start tracking your money, you can get a better grip on your finances and start working towards some longer-term financial goals–like paying off those student loans.
If you are like most college students, you get major cash influxes at the beginning of each semester through your financial aid office. As fun as it is to open up your banking app and see that large stash in your checking account, it will be a lot easier to stick to your budget if you only keep enough cash on hand to pay for that month’s living expenses. Not to mention that savings accounts tend to pay a higher interest rate than checking accounts. It’s not a ton but it might be enough to buy a cup of noodles in a pinch.
Meanwhile, putting up a mental divider between the funds makes it a lot easier to keep track of your spending priorities every month and to hold yourself accountable.
Find a Money Buddy to Help You Stay Accountable
It’s not always easy to stay on track with your financial goals–especially if everyone around you has different spending habits. Finding someone that you can talk to openly about money matters can make it much easier to stay on track. This can be a family member, someone in your social circle at college, or even someone you “met” while pursuing an investing subreddit.
A money buddy shares your financial interests and goals. They can be there to help talk you off of that spending ledge when those front row concert tickets are calling your name but you fun money account is low on funds. You can celebrate financial wins together and share your favorite frugal tips.
If you know your money buddy IRL, they can be a great co-conspirator in corralling the rest of your crew into doing budget-friendly activities. This is one of the time that peer pressure can help everyone be better off financially. There are many activities that cost little or no money especially when a group is involved. Think about rotating dinner parties, attending free events in your community, or game nights. You and your money buddy can tag team your calendar to find all the best events while keeping everyone’s budget in mind.
Embrace Your Inner 5 Year Old And Learn How to Share
You may have graduated from elementary school quite a few years ago, but learning to share again can save you lots of money while you’re in college by splitting your expenses with others. Getting a roommate is a great way to cut your housing costs in half or more. Plus it can be nice to have some friends around the house to hang out with and go halfsies on that Netflix membership instead of spending extra cash eating out.
Cut back on transportation costs by taking public transit or car-sharing programs where you can pay to use a car only when you need one. If you already have a car and selling it is not an option, you can rent it out when you aren’t using it or moonlight as a Lyft or Uber driver to help offset the costs and make some extra money. Another option is to offer to give your friends rides in exchange for gas. They’ll be grateful for the ride, you’ll get to hang with your bud, and your bank account will be happy too.
Learn How to Cook
Speaking trimming major expenses, eating out can wreck a budget faster than you can say, “I’ll take fries with that.” College life makes it easy to get into the habit of eating out for most meals. Whether it’s ordering in pizza for a late night study session or meeting friends for dinner and cocktails, that extra spending on convenience adds up fast.
Knowing how to cook is an essential life skill that can help you save more money every month. You can learn basic cooking skills from recipe books, friends, online, or in a course depending on how comfortable you are in the kitchen already.
Even though you will be eating out less, you don’t have to give up on the social aspect. The next time a friend suggests eating out, offer to host a potluck at your place where you can show off your new culinary skills.
Get Your Money’s Worth Out of College
Take advantage of as many as many of your college’s amenities as you can. Go to the talks that offer free lunch. Make date night a free concert on campus. Use the college gym instead of paying more for a membership somewhere else. Rent your textbooks from the library instead of buying them. And don’t forget to flash your student ID so you can take advantage of student discounts both on and off campus.
Also, start using your college’s career counseling. Colleges want to be able to advertise that their students find jobs, so they frequently have robust resources to do just that. Go to as many resume workshops, etiquette dinners, and mock interviews as you can so you can to maximize your chances of landing your post-grad dream job making the big bucks.
Pay Your Bills on Time (And In Full) Each Month
Nothing turns a perfectly reasonable budget into a sinking ship faster than fees. Whether it’s late fees from not paying your bills on time or interest from running a balance on your credit card from month to month, either way, you are throwing away perfectly good money that could be saved for a rainy day.
Having good credit can affect so many more things than just getting a loan or a credit card. It can be reviewed during an application for insurance, an apartment, or even a job. Clearing up any issues now will put your best foot forward as graduation approaches.
Get Your Side Hustle On
Sometimes the best way to save money is to make more money. There is only so much you can (or might want to) frugalize your budget. Even the most demanding undergraduate class schedule typically leaves enough time to work.
You can opt for more traditional part-time work like being a teaching assistant for a semester or working part-time at the mall. Alternatively, you can join the robust gig economy online where there’s bound to be demand for just about any skill set.
Freelancing requires more hustle than a standard part-time job, but the upside potential is often much higher. Plus, side hustles are a great way to pad out your resume with practical skills for your post-grad job hunt.
Get Control of Your Credit
These days, student loan debt is often par for the course for most college grads. It’s also possible that you may have gotten into the habit of using credit cards and not paying them off every month. Paying late fees and interest on debts means that you have less money available to use on the things that are really important to you.
Take some time to review your credit report so that you know exactly where you are. Take note of all of your debts, the interest rate, and the due dates. For student loans that are currently in deferment, you can typically log on to your servicer’s website to get an estimate of what your payment will be. Once you know how much debt you have, you can create a plan to start paying them off, which will save you quite a bit in the long run.
Start An Emergency Fund
You may not have given much thought to putting aside an emergency fund while you’ve been in college, but this one money move you want to start making sooner rather than later. Having some money put away for emergencies really helps to stabilize your finances. When unexpected expenses come up, you can tap into that pool of cash instead of charging a credit card when you can’t afford to pay it off in full at the end of the month.
Building up a proper emergency fund, three to six months’ worth of living expenses, can take quite a bit of time. The earlier you can start the better.
You may be nearing the end of your formal education, but keeping your finances on track is a lifelong learning experience. Use these money tips to fatten your bank account by graduation and you will have two reasons to celebrate.