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College is such an exciting, memorable time.
It will make it’s mark on you and be an unforgettable moment that you won’t experience again. College is also a time when some of the worst financial mistakes can happen.
Are you a college student who doesn’t want to fall into these financial traps? Keep reading to learn how to avoid these 27 financial mistakes in college.
1. You Eat Out Too Much
Takeout food is expensive. It’s hardly possible for a lot of college students who have no job or part-time work while balancing school. Cook at home and embrace this lifestyle. Your wallet will thank you.
Check out these tips to help you save money on food:
- Avoid buying prepackaged foods
- Shop whole foods
- Stay away from junk food
- Bake and cook at home
- Practice meal prep
- Freeze produce to avoid spoilage
- Shop according to what’s on sale
Pro Tip: Try using apps like Ibotta when you grocery shop, to spot the sales and earn cashback from scanning your receipt!
These practices will have an immediate impact on your budget. Try these out!
2. You Aren’t Educated About Money
This is an easy one to fix. Educate yourself! You can take money classes or workshops. Talk to your parents. Talk to your friends and partner openly about money. This makes a big difference.
When I was in college, I was surprised how uneducated some of my friends were:
- They didn’t know how to write a check
- They didn’t know how credit cards worked
- They didn’t know how to pay their bills
These are all things you shouldn’t be ashamed of.
How did I know?
I was well-informed because of my degree, accounting and I worked at a bank in college so, I knew the ins and outs of some of the basic financial world stuff.
Here are some free ways to learn more about money:
- Watch money TV (shows like Suze Orman)
- Listen to money podcasts
- Read financial books or magazines
- Take a free course or workshop
Having this knowledge is very useful and will save you a lot of money in life.
3. You Aren’t on a Budget
How ever much or little you make, you should be a on a budget. Not only will it help you avoid overspending but it also instills the practice in you while you’re young so it can develop with you into adulthood.
Budgeting is easy and can be fun.
Take a look at this roundup of awesome budget apps you will like:
These apps help with it all: tracking your spending, monitoring your savings, spend less, create financial goals, and more. If you want a no-nonsense approach to budgeting, these apps will help!
4. You Go Out Too Much
College life, parties, fraternity and sorority events, school games, etc. There are so many opportunities to go out. A big mistake is going out too much!
Because, going out means you’re probably spending money. Going out too much in your college years can set you up for failure in adulthood.
It’s easy to get used to a lifestyle of leisure. It can leave you with loads of debt and living paycheck to paycheck.
You don’t have to give up your social life.
Take advantage of free and cheap events:
- First Fridays (common in most big cities, a free event downtown with art, music, and more)
- Music in the park
- A walk in the neighborhood
- Movie marathon with friends
- BYOB dinner party
- Free festivals in your city
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of free school events you can attend at your college or university. Try it out!
5. You Aren’t Saving
Yes, you should be saving in college! Start forming this important money habit now and it will continue into adulthood.
Here are some tips to start saving:
- Set up direct deposit for savings
- Set savings goals
- Set a budget
- Try the cash envelope system
- Check in on your saving frequently
- Save your bonuses, tax refunds and windfalls
- Start saving toward retirement as early as you can
Build this healthy habit now and be rewarded in the future.
6. You Are Taking on Too Much Debt
Debt isn’t always bad but it’s easy to start piling up debt in college.
When I was in college, I signed up for 2 credit cards, with a total credit line of $4,000. I ended up using the cards here and there until they were maxed out just a few short years later.
How I took the credit cards?
It wasn’t my intent to apply for a new card. At school there was a booth for free Subway sandwiches. The catch was, you had to apply for one credit card application. The attendant told me not to worry that I wouldn’t get the card because I was a college student but I was approved and a few weeks later I got not one, but two cards in the mail.
This happens everyday.
I got lured in by free food as a broke college student and it ended up costing me $4,000 a few years later!
It’s easy to rack up debt. Pay close attention to this, it’s one of the top financial mistakes in college!
7. You Aren’t Taking Advantage of Discounts
You’re in college. Always ask for a student discount! This was a habit I formed in college and now I hardly visit a store without asking for a military discount (or student discount if I’m shopping with my partner).
You can save so much money just by asking for a discount.
After school, there are many more discounts you might be eligible for:
- Membership club
- Other affinities
Don’t miss out on this!
8. You Aren’t Making Savings Goals
Do you want a new car? Or, that fancy big screen television? Most large purchases are within reach, if you save for them wisely.
Create a savings goal!
Thinking about what you want and then ask these questions:
- What do I want?
- How much does it cost?
- How much can I save every month to afford it?
- Can I get a student discount?
Do this for every large purchase that arises:
- Recreational vehicle
- Designer handbag or apparel
- Computer or tablet
It’s all within reach if you save for it.
9. You Don’t Use the 24-Hour Rule
What’s the 24-Hour Rule? Here’s how it goes. To avoid impulse buys, wait 24 hours. That’s it!
For example, if you are online shopping, add your products to the shopping cart, then wait 24 hours. Go back. If you still want to buy, do so!
What you will find is that the urge to buy will disappear after 24 hours and you’ll question whether your purchase is a want or a need.
I actually started putting this into practice recently. I am a huge Amazon shopper so, I put a bunch of items in my cart and came back to it in 48 hours.
When I returned, I thought, “what was I thinking?”
Then, I deleted those items from my cart.
It’s a small change that can have a big impact and save you money. Start doing this now!
10. You Don’t Unsubscribe
A marketing tactic that most stores use is emailing you special offers to alert you of deals and sales going on at their store. It’s called email marketing and it’s very effective.
You will receive an email notification from your favorite store and likely be prompted to make a visit and shop.
How do you avoid this and not overspend?
11. You Aren’t Paying Off Your Credit Cards
If you have the ability to, pay off your credit cards every month. Because if you don’t, you may find that the credit card debt stacks up and will continue to grow if you are only making your minimum payments. Avoid this and aim to pay down credit card debt best you can, month after month, if possible.
12. You Aren’t Checking Your Credit Report
You get one free credit report a year. Take advantage!
Checking your credit is so important. You want to check for things like:
- Reporting errors
- Derogatory account information
If you do find errors, you can take the proper steps to make those fixes. Checking your credit once a year should be a habit every year.
Want to improve your credit?
13. You Are Using ATMs
Stay away from ATMs. The fees are exorbitant and unnecessary. If you take the time to prepare in advance, a trip to your bank is free, compared to pricey ATM fees.
In a pinch, if you must use an ATM, aim for using your bank’s ATM, where fees are usually lower or nonexistent for their bank customers.
14. You Aren’t DIYing it
Are you a broke college kid? Why aren’t you DIYing it? There are so many ideas to DIY everyday things, it will blow your mind.
Take a look at these examples:
The perfect DIY to try. For birthdays, events, and holidays, ditch the expensive gifts and make something homemade. It’s a heartfelt gesture that will be loved by the recipient.
Some ideas to try:
- Homemade baked goods
- Bath and beauty products
- Knits (like scarves, sweaters, blankets, or gloves)
DIYing your food basically means cooking your own food. We talked about this above. Such a budget saver, to make your meals rather than eating out.
Does something need fixing? Repair it yourself. Nowadays you can find video tutorials for free right online.
- Sew a button back on
- Repair your dishwasher
- Fix a leaky pipe
- Replace a toilet handle
You will save so much money and learn a new skill!
15. You Aren’t Practicing No-Spend Weekends
This doesn’t have to be every weekend but if you can dedicate at least on weekend per month as a no-spend weekend, you can pocket that extra money.
How to entertain yourself?
- Hang out at a friends house
- Play with pets
- Watch movies at home
- Host a potluck
Creating this “free” weekend ritual can be a fun and develop into something you look forward to.
16. You Aren’t Taking Scholarships
While in school you want to continue looking for scholarships. Many think that the scholarship hunt ends once you’ve started school.
Keep looking. You want to exhaust all possible scholarship options so your cost of going to school is reduced, helping you save money.
My sister did this. She got a handful of scholarships when she started school but continued to search throughout the year. New semester, new school bill and a new opportunity to possibly have tuition covered by scholarship.
Search extensively for scholarships.
17. You Aren’t Paying Your Student Loans in School
Yes, it’s true that most student loans can be deferred in school but a big financial mistake many college students make is, not making payments while in school.
Think of these as “extra” payments and they will save you a ton in interest if you start paying now.
Think of how much smaller your loan balances and payments could potentially be after you graduate and start working in your career.
Make every effort to pay extra on student loans while in college.
18. You’re Failing Classes
Failing a class is not idea. It happens sometimes but, if you have the mentality that you can just retake the class, change this thinking now!
Have you thought about the true cost of failing?
Not only are you extending the time you’re attending school but you’re delaying your entry into the workforce and racking up more school debt most likely.
Retaking a class means you are repaying tuition/fees for that college course, including possible new books. Then, if that leads to an extra semester of school, there could be even more fees you’d be subject to like parking, room and board and other costs of going to college.
It’s throwing away money, plain and simple. Avoid failing a class at all costs!
19. You’re Missing the Freebies
We talked on student discounts above but there are actually free deals you could get for being a college student.
Are you taking advantage of them?
- Your campus gym
- Free movie nights
- Free school events and festivals
- Free hot chocolate at the library during finals
Don’t skirt past these freebies. Take advantage!
20. You Over-borrowed on Student Loans
You might be wondering how this can happen? It can.
When I was in school I had a few friends that were able to get thousands in cash back from their student loans after tuition was paid.
They would get the overage but it’s still loan money so it’s extra payback on the student loan unnecessarily.
Then, there’s my horror story.
I took out a student loan for a year of living expenses so I could spend my senior year “focusing” on school.
The truth is, I was burnt out on school. I was a five-year senior after transferring schools a few times through moving and losing some credits. I was working 2 part-time jobs at one point and attending school full-time and I had been doing this for 4 years.
I needed a break and took off a year of work, replacing my income with a student loan.
Not only was that loan at a higher interest rate but I’m still paying for it! Take it from me, don’t do this!
Don’t take out more loans than you need.
21. You Picked the Wrong Degree
Eek. This happens so if it’s happened to you, there are a lot of folks in the same boat, including me (more on this later).
It’s crucial that you pick the right degree because if you don’t, you will either end up in a job you hate or you’ll realize you made the wrong choice in school and change but, at a cost, of course.
If you are on the fence about which path you want to take your education, take time and research.
When I started college, I had no idea what I wanted to be. As an adolescent, I wanted to be a lot of things when I grew up but as I became a teenager and ventured into young adulthood, it was all a big question mark.
I was drawn to business so I started in business administration, which was my Associate’s Degree. Then, I moved into Accounting for my Bachelor’s Degree. After a few years, I realized accounting was not for me and I switched back to a business-related degree.
This prolonged my time in school by a year and cost me big time.
Not only did I pay for college tuition/fees for an extra year but that extra time required resulted in a burnout which made me quit my job and take on a loan for living expenses, as shared above.
All this could have been avoided had I picked the right degree from the beginning.
Now, my story might sound dramatic but it’s the truth, and a lot of folks experience the same.
Take your time, be curious, research various degrees and careers before you make your final decision. It will pay off, literally.
22. You Don’t Understand the True Cost of Your Student Loan
First of all, student loans are not a requirement to attend college. Your goal is to find a way to pay for college tuition/fees. Student loans are an option and a common solution for many but there are other ways to pay for school like:
- Getting a job
- Parents paying for school
- Tuition reimbursement through your employer
If you have looked at these options and resulted to a student loan, that’s totally fine. It’s important you understand the true cost of your loan because you can decline the loan, if the terms don’t make sense.
23. You Don’t Meet with Academic Advisors
This is crucial and a lot of people miss this.
When I was attending my large state university, I only met with the advisor a handful of times in several years of going there.
Unfortunately, there was not a system in place to prevent students from taking courses out of order and the course titles weren’t totally transparent so this is kind of what happened.
I took classes out of order.
Usually, there are prerequisite requirements to higher level courses. For example, you might have classes like Accounting 1, Accounting 2, Accounting 3, and Accounting 4. You take them in that order starting with 1 and ending with 4. However, a lot of the classes were titled too technical and it was kind of impossible to determine which class came first.
And, there was no stop in place to prevent a student from taking Accounting 3 before taking Accounting 1.
Today, hopefully things are a lot better to prevent things like this from happening in colleges but the point of the story is, had I met with an advisor, I could have been put on the right path with which courses to take and when.
An advisor will line up your classes for you, putting together a schedule of courses to take every semester until completion when you graduate.
Not meeting with one can delay your graduation and really mess you up, as illustrated above with my story.
So, meet with your academic advisor, recommended at least once a semester. It will save you time and money.
24. You Aren’t Living At Home
This isn’t possible for many college students but if you are attending school locally, live at home. It will save you so much money in the short run and long run.
Think about these costs of living on your own (with or without roommates):
- Utilities like electricity, water, internet, cable
- Trash fees
- Association costs (optional)
You can save all this money, not to mention extra costs like groceries and more, if you live at home.
If this isn’t an option, living at home, get roommates. It’s a lot cheaper to split living expenses with roommates than footing the housing bill alone.
Consider both options.
25. Picking the Wrong College
This happens all too often. Think about your career path and choose a college that aligns with your goals. Overpriced universities are in abundance and not necessary to get a quality education. You can attend local schools or community colleges, even technical schools or career colleges to get a great education.
Don’t be mesmerized by a college name or reputation. Pick a good college that fits your personal educational goals.
26. You are Overindulging
When I moved to the big city, I was attending a popular college. I was alone in the city by myself not knowing anyone. I was only attending school at first and slow at making friends so I started personal indulgences that not only added 8 pounds to my frame but also put a hole in my wallet.
Here are some expensive indulgences I took up:
- 3X/week Starbucks runs
- Cooking lavish meals at home
- Driving across town for a slice of $8 cheesecake (I did this at least once a week)
- Late night food runs at the fast food place around the corner
- College parties with junk food
- Retail therapy (shopping way too much)
I realized these poor habits I developed and started cutting back.
That Summer I returned home to work before coming back to school the next Fall semester. By the time I returned, I was back on track.
Audit your activities. Are you overindulging?
There is nothing wrong with a treat now and then but if starts spinning out of control, you have to be in the know so you can stop the overspending. These are common financial mistakes in college.
Check out these 23 tips to save money in college.
27. You Aren’t Organized
You’d be surprised how much organization plays a role in being successful.
Being organized in college means that you register for school on time, you meet with your advisors, apply for the FAFSA, scholarships and aid by the deadline, you register for school events, including graduation time, in addition to other important deadlines.
This plays a role in helping you keep your finances in check.
If you are on time, you avoid late fees, you don’t miss money opportunities like college scholarships, and you avoid hurting your credit.
It starts with the habits like these that you develop in college, that stay with you into adulthood.
You go to college, you graduate, and you head off into the world, taking your career path. Don’t make these financial mistakes in college. Follow these tips above to help yo save time and money, while developing these important habits into young adulthood.
Did we miss anything? Do you have financial mistakes to avoid while in college? Share down below so we can hear from you!