10 Strategies to Maximize Your College Budget - Genisys® Credit Union

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10 Strategies to Maximize Your College Budget

on 8/16/2023

College student sitting on stairs smiling at camera.

Heading off to college is an exciting time. You’ll meet new people, explore new places, and experience new things. But it’s no secret that college isn’t cheap. That’s why it’s crucial that you have a budget that’s both realistic and flexible. 

To help enhance your college experience, we’ve put together ten tips to help take your money further while limiting how much you need to borrow in student loans.

Creating an Ideal Budget

Before we jump right into the money-saving tips, you must start with a reasonable budget. College life is always on the go and forever changing, so you need a flexible budget. Start by listing all your sources of income, such as scholarships, grants, student loans, and money you have saved. 

Then, begin detailing all your ongoing expenses. It’s best to overestimate these costs initially. Then, you can start filling in more accurate figures during the first couple of months at school as you adjust to your new settings. Need more help? Use our coach to walk you through creating a personalized budget. 

1) Save on Textbooks & Supplies

Books and supplies can eat up your budget in a heartbeat. Luckily, there are ways to reduce how much you spend. First, most universities have an on-campus bookstore that might offer deals. If those prices are too high, fear not – you still have options. 

For example, if your school bookstore only sells costly hardcover books, you can try to find a softcover option online that is more affordable. Many businesses offer textbook rentals. Amazon rents the digital version of many textbooks via its Kindle app. Other companies, like Chegg.com, provide both physical and digital textbook rentals at steep discounts.

Explore all your options to ensure your budget isn’t wiped out before the semester begins.

2) Maximize Your Meal Plan

If you’re living on-campus, you probably purchased a meal plan. Don’t let these meals go to waste. Many university meal plans allow you to buy food at various locations, so if you don’t like one place – explore others. It can be fun dining out with friends but ensure you’re making the most of your pre-purchased meals. Otherwise, consider switching to a cheaper meal plan alternative, if available. 

3) Ask for Student Discounts

Never be afraid to ask about student discounts. College towns thrive on the presence of students, and businesses of all types create discounts specifically for this group. These savings aren’t limited to only local companies. Many online businesses also offer student discounts. For example, Adobe.com often offers special student prices on their various software programs and apps.

4) Choose the Right Financial Account

Funds can be limited while in school, so you don’t want a checking account that eats into your budget. Stop by the credit union before you leave to open your checking account. You’ll also want a debit card to access money as needed. Lastly, become familiar with digital banking to easily track expenses, monitor transactions, and prevent fraud. We have a comprehensive mobile app for Apple and Android devices that makes everything a breeze. 

5) Track Expenses & Balance Regularly

College is likely the first time you’ve lived entirely on your own. The first few months can be challenging as you grapple with all the new costs. It’s vital that you track all your expenses and balance your budget regularly. 

You’ll likely get off track with your budget at first. That’s fine. Remember, your goal is progress – not perfection. Identify all regular expenses and incorporate them into your budget. If you overspend, learn from your mistakes to prevent them in the future. As time passes, you’ll build the ideal budget for your new lifestyle.

6) Limit How Much You Borrow

Most people can only afford to attend college with the help of student loans. However, you only want to borrow what’s necessary. Many people will borrow extra money and assume it will be easy to repay once they graduate. That’s rarely the case. Instead, do your future self a favor and determine the minimum amount you need in student loans. Try to offset additional costs with money saved over the summers or by working part-time. Which leads us to our next tip!

7) Work a Part-Time Job

Juggling a job and school simultaneously can be challenging. However, if you clock several hours a week, it could drastically reduce how much you borrow in loans. For example, earning $150 to $200 a week would amount to $4,500 to $7,000 a school year (not including money you earn over the summer). That’s a significant amount of money that can be applied to tuition or living costs. 

Start by looking for part-time positions on campus. Then, expand your search to local businesses. If you crave flexibility, consider driving for ride-sharing apps and similar opportunities. 

8) Use Credit Cards Wisely

Credit cards are one of the most convenient ways to pay today. However, as a young adult, you likely have a limited credit score. That means your credit card rate will probably be relatively high, especially if it’s a store-sponsored card. Aim only to use credit cards for emergencies. Otherwise, costly interest payments could quickly devour your budget.

9) Split Costs with Roommates

If you have a roommate, consider splitting many costs. For example, you might buy a mini refrigerator while your roommate purchases a microwave. Decorations, appliances, and entertainment all cost money. Any opportunity to make your money go further is worth considering.

If you don’t know your roommates before moving in, try reaching out to them to coordinate what they are bringing. If they are getting the TV? You bring the futon. Split the responsibilities to lessen the blow to the wallet.

10) Build an Emergency Fund

College life is always on the go and forever changing. Joining groups, clubs, a fraternity, or sorority – everything costs money. Traveling with friends on a weekend getaway and jetting off for spring break are likely not in your budget. 

That’s why an emergency fund is so crucial. While it’s there for financial emergencies, it can also fill in for unplanned expenses. Use your summers to earn money and build your emergency fund. Keep this money stashed away so that it’s there when you need it most. 

We’re Here to Help!

Preparing to embark on your college career is an exciting time. To make the most of your experience, responsible money management is a must. Use the above tips to help make your money go further. 

If you’re interested in learning more about our financial tools for college-bound students, we’re happy to help. Please stop by any of our convenient branch locations or call 248-322-9800 extension 5 to speak with a team member today.


© Genisys Credit Union and www.genisyscu.org, 2023. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Genisys Credit Union and www.genisyscu.org with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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