Bills, Bills, Bills: How to Save Money in College

I Wish I Knew is a series of personal essays written by the courageous young female ambassadors of UChic. Learn how to survive and thrive during your Freshman Year from girls who have been through it. This week we are featuring UChic blogger and ambassador Katie Jones. Jones is a student at Missouri State University.

Freshman Year means more freedom, more heartache and a bundle of new experiences. One experience I wasn't ready for (and am still feeling the ramifications of), was, and is, money. Freshman Year was my first time paying for everything on my own, being in a new city, and having more freedom than I could have imagined -- so inevitably there were some hiccups. While Freshman Year might be several months away for some of you, this is the advice I wish I had.

1. Realize that there will inevitably be lots (and lots) of extras.

My Freshman Year I racked up $12,000 in loans. Some went to housing and school expenses, but a substantial amount went to my "living expenses." What does that even mean? The money for my "living expenses" went to eating out, going on trips, clothes, more eating out, partying, and exploring the city. Budgeting is just a skill that many people assume college students already know. Unfortunately I truly never learned the importance of a budget until after Freshman Year.

2. Start learning about managing your finances before you start college, instead of after when it could be too late.

I grew up in Missouri, and as a part of our high school requirements we had to take a personal finance class (which I later learned only four states in the United States require). Unfortunately, this class still didn't focus on how to create a personal budget. It was more of a business class, and we never discussed personal finances. We talked about the cost analysis of starting a business and watched The Apprentice. There were some key concepts I learned about investing in CDs, but I still didn't learn much about the costs of education, students loans, and how to keep my head above water financially during college and beyond.

3. Start paying off your loans while you're still in college.

I'm still digging myself out of the financial hole I created during Freshman Year, but over the years I have definitely gained financial knowledge. I stopped waiting for someone to teach me about money and started doing my own research. I applied to scholarships. I made budgets. I worked odd jobs in addition to my regular on-campus job. And I started paying off my loans while STILL in college.

4. Research the best ways to financially plan because they're different for everyone.

Two great books helped me a lot in this process. One was Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover. This book helped me create budgets and cut spending. The other book that changed my life was 7: A Mutiny on Excess by Jen Hatmaker. This book is more spiritual and has less practical information, but it helped me realize how much I have in my life. Both books helped me realize the lifestyle I wanted and how to get there financially.

5. Pay it back a little bit at a time so it won't feel so rough.

After reading these books I realized that I should try to pay some of my student loans off while in college. A lot of students have this disillusion that if you are in college, you don't need to pay your loans, but you really should try. If you can pay a little while in college, you'll save a lot of money in the long run because of the hefty interest rates. I started paying back just $50 a month. In the summer months, I put as much of my paycheck as I could to the loans, and then during the school year I paid off as much as I could each month.

I'm still in college, and I've paid off a substantial amount of my loans, but if I could go back and tell my younger self anything about my freshman experience it would be that if you take out a loan in college, only take the amount you need. Seriously, if there is any leftover money, send it back. While you're in school, keep applying to scholarships and financial aid each year and if you're lost visit the financial aid office and ask for help. When it comes down to it, don't be afraid to say no to going out, especially if you're using credit cards you can't afford. I hope that my story and these tips can help you avoid some of the pitfalls I faced. If you find yourself making them too, don't worry -- with a bit of determination and perseverance you can get back on track.

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