College life: 5 ways to spend and save money

Among the many wonderful things you may learn in college, theres one thing you may learn the hard way: money management. As a recent college graduate, there are many money saving tips I wish Id known before heading to college.

College students have enough to worry about: Studying for tests, paying for tuition, making it to class on time and, of course, having fun. How and where you spend your money is probably the last thing on your mind. College is an expensive investment. There isnt much you can do to control those expenses, but there are ways to control your personal spending.

Check out these five tips to help reduce those costs and help you avoid eating Ramen noodles every day of the week.

1. Track your spending

The best thing you can do is track exactly where your money goes. Make a list of all mandatory expenses, such as rent, utilities, school supplies and groceries. Once you know where your money is going, its easier to establish a budget. Make sure you budget a bit for fun or youll fall off your budget as easily as youd fall off a diet. Just stick to your plan and form good spending habits early.

2. Avoid credit cards

Although having a credit card may sound like a good idea, dont be fooled. Credit cards are one of the biggest problem areas for college students. They may seem like free and easy money to a poor college kid, but the money you borrow must be paid back with a steep interest rate and hidden fees. Fortunately, recent federal legislation makes it far more difficult for students to obtain credit cards without an adult co-signer, but its still possible to get into trouble. If you must get a card, make sure to sign up for one with a low interest rate that wont balloon after the introductory period. And make sure you pay the balance off every month.

3. Save, save, save! Then splurge

If youre really itching to buy that brand new iPod but just dont have the funds, be smart and save up your pennies. Charging such extras to a credit card provides instant gratification, but then youll pay extra in interest every month. Why not save that extra money, wait, and get the iPod a month or two from now?

4. Eat Cheap and Smart

Eating out may seem like less work than cooking at home, but youll have to work much harder to pay restaurant prices than for groceries. If you plan meals before you go to the store, you wont buy things you dont need. Doesnt a $4 plate of spaghetti sound much tastier than a $10 plate from a restaurant, not to mention the price of a drink and tip.

5. Borrow or buy used textbooks

This is one tip almost every college student has probably heard. Weve all heard horror stories about the dreadful cost of books. If you cant borrow text books, buy used from websites like Amazon.com, Half.com or CampusBooks.com. You also might consider buying the international edition. One of the best-kept secrets is that the international edition of a textbook will usually be significantly cheaper than the U.S. edition. When youre done, sell them back online to other college bargain shoppers and get back much more than you would from the bookstore. This way, everyone wins.

MCT

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