Freshman Files is a summer-long series in which I’ll discuss the things I wish I’d known exactly a year ago when I was an incoming freshman. Whether you’re starting college at the end of the summer or are looking for some tips on how to organize or want to know how to pick out good shoes for a party, this series is for you.
Today I’m discussing something that I’ve found can be a hot button topic: money. Going into my freshman year, I had a lot of questions about money that I felt somewhat uncomfortable asking. I wanted to know how freshman before me handled their finances but didn’t want to overstep. So I’m addressing the discomfort and talking candidly about how I handled finances. From scholarships to cash for spending, I’m sharing my tips for making the most out of your money.
On-campus jobs // For my first year, I ended up not getting a job even though I was enrolled in a work-study program. After filling out application after application, nothing ever panned out for me and halfway through the second semester, I decided to give myself a break. This was about the time I seriously considered the possibility of monetizing my blog and devoting time to my platforms rather than find work on-campus. I also didn’t have a car my first year, which made employment in the surrounding towns an impossibility. If you can find an on-campus job, take it, but know that there are other opportunities.
Allowance // Before moving to school, my parents and I agreed on an amount that they would send me every two weeks. What I did with my spending money was up to me. I like this system because I have total control of my finances. I know what comes when and where the money goes once I get it. Don’t be shy: ask for an allowance if you need it. The conversation can be awkward in theory, but approaching the discussion with confidence makes a world of difference. I’d recommend having a dollar amount that you’d like to receive and a portion you’d like to save in mind. Which brings me to my next point…
How much to save // From the allowance I receive and any money I earn independently, I save 30%. This is a genereous percentage, but I save this much because my living expenses at school are incredibly low. As a freshman, I had a meal plan and a place to live. I walked to and from classes and my only expense was the occassional (okay, not so occassional) Target trip or Amazon order. I pay for Audible, which is $15 per month, and sometimes splurge on a $3 chai latte. I didn’t have a car on-campus, so gas and car maintenance weren’t an issue. Save enough that it makes an impact on your savings account, but leave enough room to buy the things you need/want.
When to splurge // I like having money in my savings. Right now, my phone is cracked and I have more than enough to fix it, but I don’t want to move the money from my savings to my checking. Because of this, I like to double the amount I’m going to spend so I save twice as much as I’m going to spend. For example, if I want a pair of shoes that $100, I want to save $200 before spending, leaving a nice little cushion. This method is better suited for purchasing things in the hundreds, but it works for me. Overall, I recommend saving with an object and a dollar amount in mind. Once you reach the dollar amount, buy the thing.
When to apply // Right now. Literally, right now. There are infinite ways to make money for college at your university, online, and through scholarship competitions. I use Scholly, an app that recommends scholarships to apply for based on your interests and academic achievements. You’ll find a plethora of $200-$1,000 scholarships that seem like throwaways at first, but my college counselor framed it like this: you spend thirty minutes writing an essay for a $200 scholarship. If you do the math, that’s $200 you earned for thirty minutes of work, and that $200 that doesn’t have to come out of your pocket.
You can ask for more // Because of my demographic, I didn’t get much in the way of financial aid. I pretty much got the same amount at every school where I applied, and looking at private liberal arts universities, this aid wasn’t going to cover it. Subsequently, I rely pretty heavily on scholarships to help cover the cost of my tuition. After receiving my financial package from my university, we decided to email the financial aid office and appeal for more aid. I didn’t know this was a thing, but it totally is. We shared the amounts I’d been offered at competing universities, described why we were asking for more, and it worked. If you need more money, ask for it. It’s not a guarantee that you’ll get a full ride or anything with several zeroes, but colleges aren’t going to come to you offering more money. It’s a conversation you have to initiate.
What are your tips for finances in college? How do my strategies line up with yours?
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