Congratulations graduates and parents, you have made it! High school graduation is a breaking away of adolescence and entering into the adult phase of life. Your training in the past 18 years will set the stage for your college experience. Graduation from high school represents a new challenge of independent decision and thinking. College life will be challenging as well as exciting meeting new people with diverse backgrounds and intellects. I have been out of college for some time, but college life never changes. You will quickly get acclimated about your finances in the first few months. I, too, have experienced the pain of spending all of my money before the first month of school is over. Here are some tips to remember:
Work within a budget - Some of you are probably receiving grants, loans, or scholarship money. Use the money wisely to cover all your tuition, room, board and books. Next, knock out all other priority expenses if you have money remaining. Lastly create a monthly budget after the first couple of weeks to help you keep track of all expenses.
Stay within your meal plan - Understand the number of meals that you have per week. Meal plans consist not only dining options in the dining hall, but restaurants in the student center and surrounding establishments on the outskirts of campus. Keep track of all your meals and spending accounts before splurging on late night pizza and burgers.
Utilize a debit card - Control your spending with a debit card. It acts like a credit card but the money is withdrawn from your bank account immediately. Debit cards will assist you in keeping track of expenses and sometimes prevent overspending.
Work study jobs - These jobs provide part-time employment for students while in college if qualified for federal aid. If you don't qualify for aid, there are non-federal work-study jobs available at the library, dining services and other areas. Contact the financial aid office for more questions. While in college, I worked in the computer lab helping students with their papers and projects. Not only was I able to pick up extra gas and food money; I used the lab to complete all my homework on time.
Buy bottle water in bulk and purchase a coffee maker - You will probably live off these two items. Individual bottle water is expensive when you buy it from campus stores. You can buy bulk cases of bottle water (36 or more) for under $4 at a warehouse/discount store. Most students will attend class with their latté. Name brand coffee houses are in abundance on college campuses today. However you can save money by making your coffee in the dorm and walk just as proud as other students in your designer mug sporting school colors.
Get on the Dean's list and apply for every scholarship - Make it your goal to get on the Dean's list. Sometimes having a high GPA offers additional financial assistance. Also check for departmental scholarship in which you may qualify.
Find the best value for your books - College books have increased 812% over the past three decades. In most cases it has outpaced tuition cost. Average cost of books can be more than $1100 per year. Look everywhere for low cost books. Look online for used copies as well as websites and even think about purchasing books utilizing e-readers. Often students will sell their books to make money; take advantage of the savings.
Go to the career placement office - Do me one favor, go and register yourself at the career placement office. Studies have shown when students intern/coop during college, they are looked upon favorably more than their peers who did not. Internships and cooperative education connects students to the real world and are resume builders. It brings the classroom to life. It helps you become a stronger student as you apply classroom theory to practice. I, too, have interned and worked exclusively for the same company in the past 20 plus years.
Leave school with little or no debt - Do as much as you can now without having loans upon graduation. When you have little to no debt upon graduation, you'll have the purchasing power of doing anything that you desire - such as purchasing a home, buying a new car or going on a long vacation.
Graduation from college in four to five years may seem far off but it's around the corner. Start building your legacy brick by brick with doing the right things with your money, career, and education. The small things that you do today will truly make a difference in the future.
Make it a great day!