Moving out of the dorms means one thing to most college students: sweet, sweet freedom. Living outside the dorms has some great perks, but renting your first apartment or room in a house may require a bit more financial responsibility than you expected. Here are seven tips for budgeting in college and making sure you have enough funds to pay that monthly rent check:
1. Don't rent an apartment you can't afford. That gorgeous new luxury apartment building is tempting, but do you really need a rooftop pool and a state-of-the-art fitness center? The answer is no. Rent will be your largest monthly expense, so it's important that you sign a lease on an apartment you can actually afford.
The general rule of thumb is that you can spend up to 30 percent of your monthly income on rent, but if you're a college student living on loans or only working a part-time job, you should aim for the most affordable place you can find, within reason. You don't want to find yourself in an unsafe neighborhood.
2. Create a budget and stick to it. While creating and maintaining a budget sounds about as fun as studying for midterms, it can help you avoid graduating from college with a mountain of unnecessary debt. Begin by listing your monthly income and all your expenses, including rent, utilities, food and entertainment. It's OK if they're just estimates. As you begin tracking your spending, you'll have a more accurate idea of where your money is going.
3. Keep track of what you spend. Here's the secret to sticking to a budget: Keep track of where your money is actually going each month. This may sound like a massive chore, but free budgeting apps such as Level Money, Mint, LearnVest and Budget Ease do most of the work for you.
Simply sync your bank accounts to whichever budgeting app you choose, and you'll get reports telling you exactly what you're spending and where. You may come to realize that you're spending more on takeout than you thought.
4. Consider gently-used textbooks. As a college student on a budget, you need to save money wherever you can. Instead of buying new textbooks from your college store where the prices will be marked up for the on-campus convenience, buy used ones, or even better, rent them! You can rent textbooks from sites such as Campus Book Rentals, Barnes & Noble and Amazon for deeply discounted rates.
5. Take advantage of discounts. Whether you're going to a movie or buying groceries, ask if there's a student discount. You might be surprised by how many places are willing to knock off a few dollars for college students. After all, they know you're on a tight budget. They'll probably ask you for your student ID, so make sure you have it on hand.
Chances are there are also free activities happening on campus all the time, so take advantage of them! The money you save eating free pizza at a club meeting or campus event can go toward something else in your budget. Want to save even more? Start clipping coupons. You don't have to go the extreme couponing route, but a few cents saved here and there can add up over time.
6. Keep credit card purchases to a minimum. Credit cards can be pretty dangerous if you're trying to stick to a budget -- it's just so easy to swipe that plastic without seeing your bank account balance drop. You can quickly get in over your head if you don't pay attention to how much you're charging.
However, credit cards are an essential component of building credit, which you'll need if you ever want to buy a car or take out a loan. To avoid subjecting yourself to the high interest rates and creating debt, never charge more than you can afford to pay off each month.
Bonus tip: Only bring cash with you when you go out at night -- you don't want to wake up the next morning only to find that you bought a round for the entire bar.
7. Start saving now. When you're in college with limited funds, saving is probably the last thing on your mind. You don't have much money coming in, and it seems like everything you earn goes toward rent, tuition, textbooks and food.
However, incorporating savings into your budget now will help you in the long run. Set up an automatic deposit of a small sum (whatever you can afford, whether it's $5 or $50) into your savings account. If there's ever an emergency, you'll be
Niccole Schreck is the rental experience expert for Rent.com, a free rental site that helps you find an affordable apartment and provides tips on how to move.
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