We are happy to present the Winning Essay by Justin M. Anderson, who is deservedly awarded the Winter 2019 DirectLoansLenders Scholarship. Read Justin’s essay to discover some smart money management tricks for college students.
How to Skyrocket Your Chances for Succeeding Financially While Studying
I have always considered myself a very smart spender and saver. Growing up, I was not the kind of kid who had to have all the latest toys and gadgets, but I did like to collect pennies, many of which I still have today. I have been saving money and spending it very carefully since I opened my first savings account in first grade with fifty dollars (and one penny, at my insistence). Even throughout college, I have been successful in managing my finances. However, after being out there in the real world for my first semester, I have learned a lot about how to improve my money management skills and achieve financial success during and after school.
Here are three things I wish I knew about money management before arriving on campus. If I knew then what I know now, I’d have even more money in the bank. First, a work-study job is not something your parents are forcing you to do. It is actually something very beneficial. A work-study program is often included with a federal aid package, and it consists of a set amount of money that you can earn throughout the year on campus. Unlike with an off-campus job, your on-campus managers are often more understanding of your other responsibilities and allow you to have an extremely flexible schedule. With an on-campus job, you can essentially work as many hours as necessary, depending on your financial wants or needs. If you do not qualify for work-study, however, colleges offer plenty of on-campus jobs with similar flexibilities. They are just a little harder to come by because there is more competition for them.
Another money management tip I wish I knew about before I arrived on campus is how critical it is to fully take advantage of the meal plan you are paying for. When I signed up for classes, it didn’t occur to me to make sure that I scheduled time for lunch when the cafeteria was open. As a result, for three days a week, if I wanted to eat lunch, I had to go to the on-campus fast food restaurant and pay extra to eat. My school does offer a set number of “Flex Points” that can be used at the cafe, but I ran out of them when I was barely halfway into the semester and had to spend money from my own pocket. For my second semester, I have made sure that my meal times and classes never fully overlap. Another tip regarding food is to take full advantage of all the free food you come across at meetings, floor events, and the like. Eat what you want at the event, then take home leftovers. There is almost always free food available somewhere on campus. You just need to be on the lookout for it, and once you find it, you can always have something to snack on in the fridge, absolutely free of charge.
Another good financial tip to follow in college, and life, in general, is to watch your spending. In my opinion, just because you have a credit card does not mean you can go out and buy everything you want. You should only spend what you can afford to pay off at the end of each month. As I made my way through my first semester of college, I limited my credit card spending to about $20 a month. Most of that was on food. I discovered this was a small enough amount to be quickly replenished by my biweekly work-study earnings. Along with my new plan for scheduling classes and meals next semester, I can hopefully get my spending down even further.
And finally, do not underestimate the value of change. The pennies, dimes, nickels, and quarters you get back when you spend cash can add up quickly, giving you a few extra dollars that you didn’t realize you had until you gathered it all up. I have a change jar in my dorm, and every time I come back with change or money I find on the ground, I add to it; and I rarely spend my change, so it keeps adding up. Think of that change jar as a mini savings account. At the end of the first semester, I had $6.95 saved up, enough for a whole meal at the cafe.
Maintaining finances and achieving financial success in college can be difficult if you are not disciplined, but by incorporating a few smart tricks into your routine, it is possible!