Money Management for College Students

Entering college is an exciting and sometimes intimidating venture for many young adults—often it's the first time many leave the warmth and safety of their parents' home and have to live and manage on their own. One specific area that causes young adults difficulty is learning to budget. Here is a look at how college students can more effectively manage their money while furthering their education.

Key Takeaways

  • College students need to set up a self-enforced budget.
  • Utilizing meal plans and sharing expenses with roommates can help save money.
  • Students should investigate economic ways to buy essential items and supplies.
  • Learning to distinguish between essential and non-essential purchases is also a key money management tactic.

Enroll in a Meal Plan

A meal plan is a pre-paid program in which a set amount of money covers your meals on campus each semester. Assuming the educational institution offers the option (at some schools, it's either required or just rolled into an overall room and board cost), a meal plan can save a considerable amount, especially if it has a variety of tiers or arrangements—no sense in paying for three meals a day if you habitually skip breakfast).

Although one can debate whether meal plans work out to be cheaper than home-prepared food, it's likely more economical than eating in restaurants all the time—and they're certainly more convenient. You can pick up a lunch or a snack whenever you'd like and you do not have to take the time to grocery shop or cook yourself.

Share Expenses with a Roommate

When it comes to living in a dorm, you can expect to live in close quarters with another student. Another way that you can reduce your cost while living at college is to go in on things with your roommate—e.g. appliances or furniture. Or you could pool resources for the laundry or other services.

Save on Supplies

Saving money on many college supply items is easy, even if you are living on campus. Before going straight to the campus bookstore, ask around to see if there is a used bookstore nearby (chances are there is in a college town)—or go online to sites like Amazon or; you could save a considerable amount of money on your textbooks, even the new editions.

Notably, the site boasts that it can save college students up to 90% on new and used textbooks, and lets you rent as well as buy them. Additionally, you could save yourself even more money if you consider downloading your textbook to an e-reader or tablet device.

If you are looking to save on other supplies such as three-ring binders and loose-leaf paper, consider buying in bulk from an office supply store such as Staples (another item that you can split with your roommate or other students).

Determine What Is Essential and Non-Essential

Another point of difficulty for many college students is determining the difference between essential and non-essential items. Essential items are things that you need for everyday living and hygiene—food, clothing, toiletries—and, arguably, for your education (books, laptop, etc.).

Non-essential items are products that you don't need for everyday living, such as new sneakers or iPad. Non-essentials are things that are "nice-to-have" but not "must-own" items. Although it may be difficult at first, curb your spending to include only essential items until you are accustomed to living within your means.

Watch Out for Impulse Spending

It can be very tempting to spend your money on things you want but don't need—that fourth pair of sneakers—or on recreational activities. Peer pressure is all around you, and parents aren't around to say no.

Of course, that's not to say you can never splurge or indulge, or socialize because it'll cost money. But put yourself on an allowance—budget how much you'll spend on discretionary items or events each month.

The Bottom Line

Entering college is an exciting milestone, and if this is your first time away from home, it can also be nerve-wracking. Get started on the right foot financially by setting up a sturdy budget when you step foot onto the campus. Save money where you can, share expenses with a roommate or friend, and, most importantly, be mindful of your spending.