By Joseph P. Cunningham, CPA
If you are heading off to college for the first time, congratulations! You will learn as much outside of the classroom as inside over the next few years. To help your college journey be a little easier and less stressful, make sure your personal finances are, and remain, in order.
Here some money savings tips for incoming (and maybe some returning) college students and parents.
Textbooks – Understand that the college bookstore may not be the only place to find the assigned text of your professors. Booksprice.com, for example, offers new and used textbooks, and does a great job of allowing shoppers to compare the same text across multiple vendors, including Amazon and eBay. Want to rent a textbook or sell it back at the end of the semester? Booksprice handles these cost-saving options too.
My daughter and I spent about an hour to get books for five subjects. We spent less than $175 for hardcopies of her textbooks.
Dorm decor – Make purchases for your room before you arrive on campus. If you have questions about room size or dimensions, call campus housing. They have the answers readily available. Also, make sure you are aware of what appliances are allowed and which ones are not.
If you have a roommate, talk to him or her in advance to work out which appliances each of you will bring.
Disposable income – Living within your means is difficult, but it will save you from the burden of additional debt. Laundry, entertainment, gasoline, and trips to the coffee bar all add up. Make a budget of required and additional expenses, and stick to it. You don’t want to be short of funds when your friends decide to go out some evening. Maybe you will need a part time job. The college campus would be the first place to look.
Credit card vs. debit card – Spend what you have. Use a debit card or cash for purchases rather than a credit card. With a credit card, you run the risk of spending more than you can repay and incurring interest charges on unpaid balances. With a debit card, you can only spend what is in your account until you deposit more money.
Shopping – Whenever you go to the store for anything, look at alternatives. Do you prefer name-brand items over generic ones? Does it matter? To me, one brand of dishwashing soap is as good as another. That may not be the case with deodorant or breakfast cereal. Some stores around the college campus, such as a convenience stores, may price items higher than larger stores that may be a little further away. Being a smart shopper can save you a good chunk of change over a semester.
Emergency funds – Have a plan and a cash reserve, because you never know what might happen. Maybe you will need to have a computer repaired. Perhaps you will have to see a doctor. Sit down with your family and plan these scenarios out. Your family is your support network, but your support network on campus is limited.
Good luck, Class of 2023!
Joseph P. Cunningham, CPA, is an associate professor and director of the master of accounting program at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa. He brings to the classroom 30 years of public practice and industry experience.
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