We’ve all heard of the freshman 15, but weight isn’t the only thing college students pack on during their years away at school. Debt, whether it’s from student loans or on credit cards, has ballooned to a trillion dollar problem.
For many students, college life is their first time managing their own finances, and it can be easy to overspend and take out too many loans to help make ends meet. But experts say there are easy tricks to help students better manage their finances and not incur so much debt.
“Just as students are preparing for their future career and choosing their course of study, there’s also an opportunity to start off making smart money decisions,” says Patricia Nash Christel, a spokeswoman for Sallie Mae. “There is an opportunity to lay the groundwork for smart money habits for the rest of their life.”
Here’s a look at four pain-free tactics to help college students avoid packing on the debt this school year.
Tip No 1: Skip Eating Once a Month
Let’s face, no college student has time to cook their own meals all the time, but eating out can be a budget zapper.
According to Christel, if college students skip eating out for one meal once a month they can save enough for an emergency fund to use after graduation. “They need to take a pass at eating out too frequently or buying too many fancy cups of coffee,” she says.
Tip No. 2: Find Student Discounts
College students should put their ID to use to save some cash.
“Many businesses offer student discounts on laptops, books and other school supplies,” says Andrew Corrado, a senior vice president at Capital One Bank. “Showing your student ID and utilizing these discounts can save big bucks.”
College students can up their frugal game by shopping at thrift stores and buying in bulk with their roommates. Students can also save by buying used books or even sharing them. “Textbooks often come at a hefty price tag. Shop around for discount bookstores that offer what you need or buy used books from your campus book store,” says Christel. “If you share classes with your roommate or friends, offer to share textbooks to save costs.”
Tip No. 3: Be Careful with Credit
It can be easy to rack up credit card debt in college by over swiping the card to cover school and extracurricular activities, but the debt stays into adulthood.
Corrado says it’s fine to have a credit card, but stresses students to be careful with selecting and using it. “Know exactly how much credit you can handle in order to avoid getting in over your head and falling into debt. Think of credit as the use of future income. Keep your credit limit low to help avoid overspending.”
Tip 4. Embrace a Frugal Lifestyle
Just because you have a tight budget doesn’t mean you can’t have fun in college. There are a host of free or low-cost activities available students—they just need to know where to look. Christel suggests students should opt for the school gym instead of joining an off-campus fitness facility.
To find free or cheap activities to fill up your spare time, she suggests scoping out local and regional newspapers for local events. In addition to community events, take advantage of the events offered on campus. According Christel colleges often offer activities like movie nights, BBQs and student performances that can give provide entertainment on the cheap.