3 Personal Finance Tips for College Students

Rohan Mathew

Updated on:

Welcome to your first day of class! This semester’s course load includes: Intro to Budgeting, Tax Relief for Beginners, and Applied Economics 101.

But unlike your actual college courses, there will be no final exam.

These personal finance tips are for educational purposes only! So, open your textbooks to page one, break out that brand new set of multi-colored highlighters, and let’s begin. 

Class is in session. 

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#1 Set A Reasonable Budget

Think of your financial budget like a course syllabus. Your professor spends hours arranging each week’s lessons and assignments to give you a general roadmap of the semester. Does the course always go according to plan? Of course not

But would you be totally lost without a syllabus (or budget—catch the analogy yet?)? 


Unanticipated expenses will always come up, the same way that your prof might schedule a last-minute midterm review session or assign additional reading. But you can always prepare for the anticipated expenses (and assignments) with a thorough but flexible budget. This is where a good credit card can be a lifesaver.

At the beginning of each semester or quarter, use your planner or online calendar app to make your own financial “syllabus:”

  • Mark the days when your rent, utilities, cell phone bill, and other necessary expenses are due (with several underlines and many exclamation points). Create your monthly budget keeping these numbers in mind. 
  • Make a note of any trips you’re planning—whether that’s an away game weekend trip, club retreat, Spring Break vacation, or flight home to visit family. These major expenses might shape the rest of your spending for the semester.
  • Think about the months when you’ll be spending more and adjust your budget accordingly. This could include buying books and supplies at the start of the term, Halloween costumes and parties, or holiday gifts.

Create a financial plan that reflects each month’s needs rather than trying to hold yourself to an average monthly budget that doesn’t really work for you. 

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#2 Post-Secondary Tax Relief Assistance

As you prepare for each new semester, you’re bombarded with a long list of necessary fees and expenses like tuition, textbooks, school supplies, and more. Sure, you can use textbook rental services and buy affordable notebooks like the Jottbook A4, but these often aren’t enough to give you the financial relief you need. 

Surprisingly, this might be the first (and only) time the IRS is truly in your corner. 

If you’re struggling to keep up with these various expenses, you may be eligible for Form 8863 education credits to offset the rising costs of higher education. 

#3 Tackle Student Loan Debt Headfirst

Whether your college’s football team is a Division 1 Rose Bowl-winning lineup or a couple of scrappy yet underprepared Division 3 walk-ons, there’s something to be said for being on the offense with your student loans.

As team captain, it’s time to solidify your next play:

  • If you can swing it, make interest-only student loan payments while in school. The longer you take to repay your loan, the more money you’ll end up owing overall. It won’t feel good in the moment, but your newly graduated self will owe you big time.
  • In the six months after graduation, you won’t be required to make any monthly payments. Use your grace period wisely. Study up on the available options, including fixed vs. variable-rate plans and your anticipated repayment timeline. Consider making higher-than-minimum payments to avoid accruing as much interest. 

Final Personal Finance Exam: TBD

Even the best-laid plans are subject to change. Of course, the intention is always to finish your essay the day before it’s due rather than the morning of, but is that always a reality

No one ever means to spend $100 on Domino’s at two in the morning, and yet… 

These things happen. Account for those late-night pizza-and-Red-Bull-fueled study sessions ahead of time, so you always have enough in your checking account when you need it.