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5 money tips I wish I knew before college

Jeanie Ahn
Senior Producer/Reporter

Going off to college was one of the most exciting times of my life. Not only was I leaving behind years of studying for the SATs, and countless hours applying to colleges and scholarships, but I’d finally get to discover the world on my own and do as I please.

But looking back, I wasn’t quite ready to be a grown up, especially when it came to handling my finances. Needless to say, there’s a lot I wish I knew about money before I was on my own for the first time. Check out the video above for some money advice I really could’ve used before starting my college career.

#1 Show up

Right now as the new school year is just starting, it’s unlikely you’re already tempted to skip class. But after a few weeks as your motivation wanes, it becomes easier to make excuses to play hooky. But missing a class will cost you not only time, but loads of money. I’m talking hundreds of dollars per class, and thousands of dollars down the drain, especially if you’re enrolled in a private or out-of-state university. In fact, over the course of four years, the average student skips over 240 classes, according to a study by Class120. It’s not surprising that 60% of students don’t graduate on time.

According to a report by Complete College America, each additional year you go to school will cost an average of $68,000 if you factor in the cost of attendance and loss in wages from being in school, and not in the workforce.

#2 Apply for financial aid and scholarships each year

One and done — not so! Remember that you have to apply for financial aid and scholarships every single year. The earlier you apply for financial aid, the more likely you are to be rewarded more money. You can now apply for financial aid as early as October, so definitely don’t wait until the last minute.

For the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), do not forget to mark your calendars with your college, state, and federal deadlines. And bear in mind that college and state deadlines for financial aid will come up months before the federal deadline of June 30. Click on this link for 2017-2018 FAFSA deadlines by State.

Fight every urge to procrastinate because you will be kicking yourself for not taking every advantage of reward money and scholarships you could be eligible for. If it motivates you to gather your friends and host a FAFSA-filling-out party, do it. Or maybe treat yourself to a concert once you’ve completed five scholarship applications. Whatever you go with, just get it done sooner rather than later because your No. 1 goal (besides getting a decent education) is to avoid student debt like the plague. That way when you graduate, you can get a head start on living on your own or traveling.

#3 Opt out of unnecessary fees

The key is to catch these fees before the semester starts. Work with your school’s Bursar’s office to find out what line items are mandatory versus which are just optional. The key is to catch these fees before the semester starts to ensure that you haven’t even had the opportunity to make use of the services you’re asking them to waive.

For example, you can move off campus instead of paying for your school’s room and board, or if you’re already under your parents’ health plan, and don’t need your school’s, opt out. My colleague, Ann, did this and saved thousands. Check out nine of her money-saving college hacks here.

#4 Don’t let money get in the way of friendships

With roommates, one way to avoid conflict is to set ground rules early on. Determine what you’ll share versus what’s off-limits before it starts eating away at you when your roommate keeps devouring all your food without restocking any of it, or if you’re the one who’s hounding everyone for their share of the rent.

If you’re living in an apartment off-campus with friends, make sure all your names are on the lease so that you’re not the only one on the hook for the entire rent if your roommate decides to drop out and move back home. To help keep track of shared expenses like utilities and household goods, turn to apps like Venmo, Splitwise and Divvy to split expenses and notify one another. It’s certainly a lot less awkward than bugging your friends in person.

#5 Travel using student discounts

My biggest regret about my college years is that I didn’t take every opportunity to travel. It was difficult for me to keep up with my regular courses, so I never got it together to research and apply for study-abroad programs or summer volunteer trips.

It wasn’t until after I graduated that I decided to save up as much as I could and backpack across Europe with my younger brother. Because he was still enrolled as a full-time student, he was able to sign up for an international student ID card like this ISIC card. With this $20 card, you can take advantage of thousands of discounts to museums, airlines, hotels, and restaurants, too. And every little bit of savings helps when you’re on a strict student budget.

Have any money questions? Connect with me on Twitter @jeanie531 or in the comments below.


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