Tips for Money Management in College

By Kelly Burch

Managing money is a major stressor for many young adults. Even if you were supporting yourself during high school, going off to college or moving out on your own usually brings new financial pressure and responsibility as you balance things like tuition, the cost of course materials, living expenses, and, hopefully, something leftover for having fun. It’s not surprising that nearly half of college students in one survey say they’ve faced financial challenges.   

If you feel like you don’t know much about money, that’s OK. Financial literacy—or knowing how money and finances work—isn’t something people are born with. These are skills you develop and practice, and we all deserve to have them. And a lot of college students are looking for money management tips. 

Like any new skill, learning financial literacy takes time and can be frustrating. But learning financial basics now can set you up for a lifetime of financial competency. We’ve put together a guide for money management in college.

Start with the Basics

One of the best ways to manage your money is with a budget. A budget is a plan for your money. It doesn’t have to restrict you, but it should help you understand where your money is going. You’re in charge, so you can budget for things you love, like new sneakers, while also making sure you can afford things you need, like books. Start with this college-specific budget template from the University of Massachusetts. Or try this budget template for teens.

In addition to making a budget, you can incorporate these tips:

  • Save money, even if it’s $5. It will add up fast, and build a healthy habit. 
  • Try not to rely on credit or loans. Credit cards or loans to cover the cost of living might feel like free money. But you’ll have to pay that money back, with interest (money charged for borrowing), which will mean you pay more back than you borrowed. Try to live within your budget without relying on credit cards or too many loans (beyond the ones you may need to afford school). 
  • List wants versus needs. Getting really honest about things you need versus those you want can help you stay on budget. Rent and food are needs, whereas a new phone is a want.
  • Resist advertisements. We’ve all had the experience of scrolling TikTok and seeing something we can’t live without. It’s easy to make an impulse purchase, but that can throw off your budget. Instead, scroll past ads and budget for the things that you really can’t live without. 
  • Know what resources are available to you. If you’re a student, your school might work with local businesses to offer students discounts at restaurants, on public transportation, and more. Additionally, some schools may have food pantries, technology loaning services, emergency grant funds, and other services you can lean on if needed. You will likely learn about these resources during orientation, or you can check out your school’s website for more info.
  • List all your expenses. Items like car insurance, utilities, and your phone plan don’t require you to swipe your card, but they can have a big impact on your budget. Consider all your expenses throughout the year, including books, transportation costs, and more—not just items you purchase each week. 
  • Remember hidden costs. Credit card interest, recurrent charges on your debit card, and bank fees add up too. 

Learn More over Time

Once you’re familiar with the basics, start slowly educating yourself about financial topics. 

Here are some resources to get you started:

Learning about finances can be overwhelming. Remember that no one learned how to manage their money in one day, or even one year. Practicing healthy finances takes time. Stick with it, and don’t get discouraged if you make a few mistakes along the way.  

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