10 Money Lessons Every College Student (and Parent) Should Know

College Students with Apple Macbooks

Did you learn any lessons in college?

College can be an amazing experience.

Late night pizza runs, cramming for exams and watching foreign films while discussing philosophy is all part of the fun. However, college doesn’t have to be about accumulating debt or seeing how many free t-shirts you can get by applying for student credit cards.

Here are ten money lessons every college student (and their parents) should know as they head off to class.

1) Get a job. I’m sure your parents hound you about this. Guess what? They’re right! Students who get a job and are actually paying for part, most or all of their schooling tend to value their classes much more than those who survive each semester on student loans.

2) Live like a college student. You’re poor and on your own. You need to live like every penny counts. Maybe Joe Schmoe’s parents are paying for his college and he drives a Mercedes-Benz and lives in the high-end apartments on the good side of town.

Problem is, you’re not Joe Schmoe and you can’t keep up with him because his mommy and daddy aren’t funding your education. Sit back, relax on the couch you picked up off the curb and dig in to those ramen noodles. Chalk it up as life experience. If all else fails, you’ll have great stories to guilt your kids with.

3) Set a monthly or semester budget based on the money you bring in and the expenses you have. The amount of time you have to earn money and the amount you earn is finite. Download a budgeting worksheet and get started today. Believe me, you will have a much better chance living within your means if you are using a budget.

4) Don’t be afraid to shop at garage sales and thrift stores. It’s really easy to get into the trap of thinking that college is about fashion. Maybe that cute guy or girl that you have your eye on is only interested in Armani or Gucci and you want to impress them.

Resist the temptation and remember why you’re here. Besides, by the time you’re a second semester sophomore, your fashion decisions will be based on which t-shirt smells the best and which pair of sweat pants aren’t stained.

5) Live in the dorms. There, I said it. Despite what you see on T.V. or hear from your apartment dwelling friend who can barely pay the rent, dorms are a great financial deal. Most of them come with all utilities paid, Internet, a meal plan and a guaranteed space to crash.

Listen, it’s not like you’re going to be living there forever. Besides, where else can you go into the lobby at 3 a.m. and join a philosophical discussion about parapsychology as it relates to the television show M.A.S.H.?

6) Scholarships and grants are your friend. Even if you have a couple of semesters under your belt, you should stop by the financial aid office and see what scholarships and grants you may be eligible to apply for. The reason is very simple: You don’t have to pay them back.

7) Pass up the credit card offers outside the student union. Who cares if you get a free t-shirt? Think of that t-shirt as 21% interest on debt that you’ll never get paid off. Even the best credit card rewards negate themselves if you can’t handle the card like a pro – and very few college students can.

8) Cut your costs on textbooks. You don’t need new ones. There are too many Web sites that offer you the opportunity to save money on textbooks. BigWords.com, Chegg.com, Amazon.com and many other sites out there can help you save a bundle on your textbooks.

9) Buy your own good quality computer and a color printer. Better yet, ask for one for your birthday or as a high school graduation present. Printing things off at 2 a.m. at your local copy shop is not a right of passage. These shops charge by the hour for your computer usage and your printouts will cost way more then they’re worth.

10) Just say no to cable television. It’s way too expensive. Besides, with that spiffy computer you just purchased back in point nine, you can watch free movies & TV online on Web sites like Hulu.com or Fancast.com.

There are many more things you can do to save money. I don’t recommend skipping showers or never doing the laundry. I do recommend establishing good spending habits, monthly budgets and being thrifty. In the end, your college experience is what you make of it and if you make the most of it without spending the most on it, you’ll thank yourself when you don’t have piles of debt to pay off for the next twenty-years.

This article was by Bob who writes for ChristianPF.com – a personal finance blog from a Christian perspective.

Editor’s note: Bob mentioned the free t-shirt thing. As previously discussed here at ptmoney.com (setting up your finances for college), the CARD Act put an end to the practice of giving away free shwag, like a t-shirt. But the point is the same. Don’t let some outside force drive your credit card decisions. Be intentional about your finances and get a card on your terms.

photo by chris.corwin

Last Edited: December 4, 2011 @ 2:57 pm The content of ptmoney.com is for general information purposes only and does not constitute professional advice. Visitors to ptmoney.com should not act upon the content or information without first seeking appropriate professional advice. In accordance with the latest FTC guidelines, we declare that we have a financial relationship with every company mentioned on this site.


  1. Great list guys. #7 is a biggie – A real biggie.

    And not having cable TV forced me and my buddies to watch the same set of 50 VHS tapes for years. I picked up the great skill of being able to carry on a conversation using only Chevy Chase quotes.

  2. Cutting your costs on textbooks is a great tip. Just make sure to order your books far in advance if they have to be shipped to you. You could be stuck without one the night before midterms if you don’t.

  3. You mentioned getting a job – EVERY college campus has a number of pizza shops nearby, and they’re always looking for delivery drivers. When I delivered pizzas, I averaged around $15 per hour with pay and tips. Most of that is tax-free cash, you can be flexible with hours which means little conflict with classes, and get free pizza!

  4. Great list, definitely don’t fall for any make money schemes they don’t work out.

  5. Man, I remember signing up for my first card on campus n exchange for a Koosh ball. That was one expensive little piece of rubber. Wonder where that little thing is now….

  6. Matt, good point – Pizza jobs can be good ones. I happened to be in a small little college town, and everyone seemed to be after the pizza jobs, so they were actually very difficult to get hired on for! Go figure!

  7. In regards to number one: Get an on campus job! They are flexible with student schedules, don’t pay as much, but you basically get paid to do homework. It’s a great deal.

  8. Anthony @ DYL says:

    @Matt: Sorry man. Tips need to be filed on your 1040. It’s not legally tax-free, although I can imagine how those things go!

    I’m surprised that “Don’t go out every night.” is not on the list. A $20-$40 bar tab is pretty common on the weekends. Also, I did eat out somewhere at least 5 times a week. I blamed it on my class schedule, but let’s be honest. Pack your lunch! You’ll save tons in the long run.

  9. Coming into my senior year I gotta agree with all of these but #5. At UMass, I’ve saved $2K a semester by living in an apartment with a friend and buying my own food. It may be a lot different for schools in the city, but where I am the total cost of living is skyrocketing for on campus students.