More Financial Advice for College Students

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Earlier today, we posted financial advice for college students from The Wall Street JournalUS News and World Report, and Cosmo. (Cosmo provided the best advice, hands down.)

Here is some college financial advice, direct from me:

—Yes, wait until after the second class to figure out whether you really need to buy the textbook. But don’t ask whether you need the textbook. Professors hate that. Use context clues, like “does this syllabus reference the textbook at all?” and “have these first two class sessions used the textbook at all?” to figure out whether you need it.

—Buying textbooks used is great. Sharing textbooks with a friend is great. Going to the library and checking out the textbook is great. (Be aware that they might not let you take the textbook out of the library.) Going to the library and photocopying every page of the textbook is pretty much illegal—and expensive. Going to the library and taking a photo of the textbook page you want to reference later on is a LIFE HACK.

—Many of your classroom supply expenses can be shared. That art class that requires the fancy Bristol board pad? Split it with a friend. You might be able to split it with two friends. Those pads have a lot of pages.

—Nearly everything on the salad bar that tastes good weighs more. Same goes for that a la carte burrito station.

—If your college has an a la carte dining hall but doesn’t put prices on the food (like mine did), do not feel embarrassed to ask. I spent so much cash out of pocket during my first year of college because I was embarrassed to ask. (By the time I graduated there were prices on the food.)

—You can walk out of an all-you-can-eat dining hall with an apple in your pocket. Probably.

—The college convenience store has a reduced selection of personal care products at a higher cost. So does the off-campus bookstore. Figure out how to get yourself to a grocery store or Target/Walmart. If you are a person who has periods, the monthly off-campus tampon run could be a great way to bond with other people in your dorm.

—While you’re at the grocery store or Walmart, pick up your favorite brand of pain reliever, as well as some toothpaste and a fresh toothbrush. But leave that photo frame that says “Friends” on the shelf. There are plenty of less expensive ways to display your photos, including “sticky-tacking them to your wall” and “Facebook.”

—If your parents have access to your bank account, even if it’s just so they can make deposits, learn the location of every no-fee ATM on campus. (You might actually have better luck off campus.) Some of your college purchases will be best made in cash.

—If you can’t find a good no-fee ATM, use your debit card to buy a pack of gum at your local CVS/Walgreens/Rite Aid. When they ask you if you want cash back, say yes. You get no-fee cash and a pack of gum.

—Also, teach your parents about PayPal or Venmo or Square Cash or Google Wallet. They’ll probably grumble about the fees or “getting hacked,” so have some research prepared.

—If your parents (or you, for that matter) are not yet ready to cut the joint bank account string but you also want a modicum of financial independence, seek out the local campus credit union and start putting some of your money in a credit union account. (Maybe this’ll be where your campus job money goes, for example.) College is the perfect time to experiment with credit unions, and it feels much more responsible than explaining to your parents that you are also experimenting with vibrators and vaping (if vaping is legal in your state).

—If it is your first time buying vibrators or vaporizers, take along a trusted friend. Also, there’s probably going to be more than one store, and one of them will be welcoming and well-lit and the other one will be skeevy. Do your homework.

—Try to carry at least $20 on you at all times. You don’t want to be the person who goes out to dinner with your friends and is all “awww, I don’t have any cash,” and you certainly don’t want to be the person who has to go to the ATM in the back of the bar, because those things will charge you $6 for the privilege of getting a $20 bill.

—Getting some kind of job (even if it’s just playing the piano for a choir twice a week) will put cash in your pocket and look good on your resume. When you get out of college, “having had any kind of job” gives you a +4 in resume bonus over people who have never had a job.

—You still have to pay taxes. Many of your educational expenses can be deducted. I am not a tax expert. Find someone who is.

—Pizza and takeout food is expensive but it is also a great way to bond with other people. I’d be happy to consider it an necessary college expense. Budget accordingly.

What else should be added to this list?


This story is part of our College Month series.



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