8 Common Ways College Students Waste Money
The college years have their ups and downs. While it's an exciting time filled with new friends, education, learning life skills, and -- hopefully -- having fun along the way, college kids also deal with a lot of stress. College is expensive, and it can be hard for students who've just come into their own to know exactly which outside expenses are worth it, and which are just adding to their financial stress.
Here are eight things that college students often waste their money on:
Owning an car you don't need.
Between insurance, gas, parking, and the actual costs of owning and maintaining a car, you’re better off ditching it if you’re living on campus. Most colleges offer shuttles or bus services around campus, plus you have the option of biking and walking as well. If a car is a non-negotiable for you, ask your insurance provider about discounts for students.
Using the wrong credit card.
Using the wrong card or using the credit card the wrong way can result in credit card debt piling up and interest accruing. However, if you can pay the balance off every month, using a credit card is a good way to build credit, a safer way to make purchases, great for emergencies, and in some cases, a way to get cash back bonuses.
Get the best card for you. If I were still in college, I’d opt for the Discover It Card because if you misplace your card (which I may have done once or twice in my college days), you can freeze it immediately with their mobile app and manage your account with the app. I would have appreciated earning cash back for every purchase. Plus, it’s a great way to start becoming more financially aware with getting your free FICO credit score every month.
We keep an updated list of the best credit cards for college students, too, so check that out for more ideas.
Relying on takeout.
Ordering delivery and grabbing food on the go adds up, fast. If you’re already paying for a meal plan, stick with that. Sure, the food might not be as delicious as the burger place down the street, but if you eat out every night on top of your meal plan, you're throwing money down the drain.
If you have access to a kitchen, learn to cook! Those freshman 15 don't materialize out of nowhere, and home-cooked meals are, on average, both cheaper and healthier than the processed junk most takeout meals are stuffed with. We wrote an entire article about pantry staples that are both cheap an easy to make at home, so check that out the next time you're tempted to indulge. That being said, sometimes ordering a pizza hits the spot! Try to do it sparingly, but don't forget to check out all the pizza coupons we have on Brad's Deals before you order!
Taking the wrong class, failing a class, or dropping after the allowed date.
If you drop a class after the drop date, you are still charged for the entirety of the class. Know the drop date, and seriously consider if this is the right class for you prior to that date. Failing a class means you are still paying for it, but it doesn’t count towards what you need to graduate. If you’re struggling, reach out to the professor to ask about a tutor or other assistance. Switching majors or misunderstanding your required courses can mean you’re spending a lot of extra money on classes and supplies you didn’t need to take. Meet with an advisor regularly to ensure you’re taking the right classes. If you’re not totally sure what is the right major for you, consider taking your general education classes first and do some shadowing and research into possible career choices down the road.
Spending too much on housing.
Finally getting to live on your own is a fantastic feeling, but just because you have a ton of student loans to drop on that fancy condo, doesn't mean you should. Use tools like Craigslist, Padmapper, Hotpads and Trulia to compare and contrast prices, neighborhoods and amenities, and take your time! If you have a set price point, stick with it, and if you can't get a place of your own, grab some friends and room together. Half the fun of college is living with people your own age, and learning together how to be responsible adults. You'll have plenty of time to worry about marble countertops when you actually, you know, have a job. Go for cheap and load up on the gross college house stories. Believe me, everyone has one.
Paying (for ANYTHING) without asking about a student discount.
Never leave home without your student ID, and no matter where you are, before you make a purchase, you should always ask if there’s a student discount. Most retailers who operate on or around a college campus offer them, so you can get a reduced rate at restaurants, retail stores, on admission to museums, tickets to events, and travel. Check out our blog post on 40+ Stores Offering Discounts for College Students for a list of national chains that offer student discounts!
Going all out on entertainment.
If you’re spending most of your money on entertainment and other activities, you’re doing something wrong. Chances are, your college has plenty of things to do for free. Cancel that gym membership, your college probably offers a free fitness center. Skip the bars, chances are there's a party going on somewhere on campus. Check out your school’s activity calendar, and keep an eye open to the boards around campus to find free concerts, art exhibits, club activities, sporting events, movie showings, and so much more.
Taking out too many private loans.
Before you turn towards private loans, be certain you’ve exhausted any possible scholarships, grants, and federal loans. Your federal loans will be at a much lower interest rate plus be eligible for loan forgiveness programs and more flexible payment options. If you have to take out private loans in order to pay for college, take the bare minimum you'll need to survive, and stay on top of what your repayment options are BEFORE you have to start paying them back. If you need help finding ways to get your finances on track when you have loans to pay, check out these articles, packed full of tips for recent college grads:
- 10 Ways to Pay Off Your Student Loans Faster and Cheaper
- 8 Ways to Get Your Finances in Order After College Graduation