Spending wisely, building credit and dealing with debt while in college
For some, going away to college is the ultimate form of adulting. The newfound freedom can allow for memorable moments; however, there are a few pitfalls. With no reminders that it may be a bad choice to go out for dinner every day of the week or to splurge on that new iPhone, some find themselves in debt.
“Something as simple as setting up an Excel spreadsheet and going ahead and writing out all the monthly expenses can help you manage how much money you have coming in and how much is available to you,” said John Rabon, economics instructor at Missouri State. “You should include an amount for food and transportation and give yourself a monthly limit of, say, $100, as well as a weekly limit.”
According to Rabon, whenever he visits the ATM, he selects the bare minimum he needs for the week and assigns a daily dollar amount on food.
“A good number I’ve heard is $15 a day for meals, (6 days of the week),” Rabon said. “Maybe assign a reduced amount for one day of the week, like Sundays. If you decide to treat yourself with a more expensive meal, you can pull out a bit of extra money.”
Rabon encourages students to build up a “piggy bank” while at college.
“Nobody knows what the job market will be like (when you graduate),” Rabon said. “It might take a couple months to find a job, and you’re going to want to have money to live on during that time.”
Rabon advises getting a credit card and building up credit, which is gained by the amount of money borrowed and successfully paid back at the end of the month.
“What you don’t want to do is get a high interest credit card and build up a huge balance before you pay it off,” Rabon said. “You can go to any local bank and get a starter credit card — maybe even something that’s prepaid, and you can start building up your credit that way. People run into risk when they get a credit card and think it’s free, and they never had to pay it back.”
Credit history is based on how many on-time payments are made. Using a credit card for a recurring payment such as Netflix is ideal.
Patricia Hilton, senior graphic design major, is a non-traditional student who started college in the fall of 2017. Hilton had to take time off due to cystic fibrosis, a genetic lung disease. After receiving a double lung transplant, she was able to return to college with the help of a vocational rehab center and FAFSA, which paid for her tuition and books.
“I was 26 when I started, and I was married,” Hilton said. “I used to live on-campus and make my lunch everyday, so it’s definitely different now.”
Hilton said she realized she needed to continue making her own food and limit eating out to once a month.
“Classes were harder and more involved than I’d expected (during my return) and school became a full-time job,” Hilton said. “I started putting aside money in a bank account.”
Hilton suggests starting a savings account to only access for emergencies, with a minimum of $500 as a single student or a minimum of $1000 as a married student.
If you need to pull out money for loans, make sure you only take what you need, according to Rabon.
“The temptation is going to be to take out as much as you can, but then you run the risk of messing with your opportunity cost,” Rabon said. “It will affect what you can do in the future, like taking nice vacations.”
A similar scenario can be used when purchasing a meal plan.
According to Rabon, students should only pay for the bare minimum of meals they need. If you know you won’t eat three meals a day, go for less.
Despite living off-campus, Hilton said she and her husband struggled to pay for groceries until they learned how to better budget their money.
“My husband and I went through a financial class and we were practicing budgeting everything we put money in,” Hilton said. “It gave us more power over where our money went. It took many months to get our grocery bill down, but we learned to always be in agreement where our money went. We are stronger for it.”
Regardless of purchases, being aware of the cheaper alternatives is also important while budgeting.
“With textbooks, the campus bookstore is bound to be more expensive, so take advantage of Google and check out Amazon, or ask the professor if you can use an older edition,” Rabon said. “Or, if an access code is required, some people sell access codes for a discounted price.
“For groceries and other necessities, try Walmart. There are locations everywhere in Springfield. Just keep in mind that an item can be on sale in one location but still be cheaper at a different store.”
Money management is pivotal for a successful livelihood, according to Rabon. Those who know when to turn down splurges will be better off in the long run.
“A great thing about college is if you want to go to Waffle House at 3 a.m., you can,” Rabon said. “No one is there to tell you that you shouldn’t or that dropping $100 on a bar tab is a bad call. It’s up to you to stay organized.”