The Ultimate Financial Survival Guide For New College Students

“How could you afford anything?”

This was the first question I had for a friend when I started college back in 2005. I was so confused. I didn’t know how I was going to survive. I didn’t think I was smart enough for college. I didn’t think I was wise enough to finish with any money.

Long story short: I ended up graduating with a business, plenty of trips under my belt, and a rental property. You can do it too.

New college students will probably read very little about personal finance. If they do read anything then they’ll usually read articles where the advice just seems too difficult to apply.

This article covers everything you could possibly want to know about getting ahead and surviving college financially. These tips will help with financially surviving college and even graduating debt free. Before you get all nervous, don’t worry because all of the tips in this article are realistic and easy to apply.

Save money on textbooks!

This is tip #1. Textbooks in college are a killer. I don’t have to tell you this. You already know. My top tips for saving money on textbooks are:

  • Don’t buy them. Attend a few classes and see if you can get away with it. This worked for a few classes for me. Very risky though.
  • Share with a friend. I did this for most of my classes. It also forced me to get my notes done in time because I had to pass the book along.
  • Buy used. Self-explanatory.
  • Rent a textbook. This is something that’s pretty new because this option wasn’t available to me.

Setup Online Banking & Automated Finances.

You have to pay yourself first. Yes, even when you’re broke! This is why I started an online banking account right away and put a few bucks away every single week. I didn’t think of this idea. I stole it from a friend.

When I first entered college my income was really low. That didn’t stop me from automating my finances. I started off with bi-weekly automatic deductions of $50 from my paycheck that went right into an investment account.

Since I love visual results I set up an online banking account so that I that tracking my progress was easy. Plus, banking from my bed is fun.

[You can sign up with Capital One 360 right now and get $50 for free!]

Start a Retirement Account.

The funny part is that due to my late birthday (I was 17 when I started college) my Mom had to co-sign the papers for my retirement account. The bank representative kept on rolling his eyes because he was confused as to why this kid who had no traces of facial hair was worried about opening a retirement account.

Why was I so adamant about opening up an retirement account as early as possible? I once read that Einstein praised the power of compound interest. This made me realize that the earlier you start investing in your retirement, the longer you can have the power of compound interest on your side.

It’s also never too early to start thinking about retirement.

Open a Credit Card.

After a stern lecture from my mother and a wait of a few months (they told me they would issue me the credit card as soon as I turned 18) I had my very own credit card. The limit was as low as possible. Since I feared my Mom more than I did the interest the credit card company could charge me, I was smart with the card.

Over the years I used the credit card to build my credit rating. I purchased items when I had the money already accounted for in my personal savings account. I also started making routine purchases with my credit card (phone bill, gym membership, etc.) to ensure that my credit limit increased. Then when my credit limit went up I started paying for group vacations with my credit card and making large purchases for friends that had the cash but didn’t have the credit card to order online.

Today my credit limit is fairly high and my credit score is great for my age. Having a solid credit score is also a great pickup line!

[Check out the credit card survival guide.]


It’s time to come clean and admit to the many things that I wish I had done (or done better) as a new college student:

Apply For Academic Scholarships

Okay I must start off by confessing that I never applied for any college scholarships out of sheer laziness. However, I ended up applying for bursaries when I was in school. After my first year of college I started applying for every single form of “free money” possible. Anywhere from scholarships to bursaries.

Guess what? I have received a bunch of paychecks for a couple of hundred dollars since then. The worst thing that has ever happened to me was I got rejected a few times. If you fear rejection then you will never grow as a person.

My own cousin just received thousands in funding after she wrote an essay for a scholarship. I’ve seen friends and family obtain scholarships. Why don’t you give it a free?

What’s better than free money?

Start a Side Business In College.

Now that I look back I want to kick myself in the butt for not being more ambitious in terms of giving entrepreneurship a shot. I started blogging, but I wish that I did more.

Sure you could earn a more stable income by working for someone else but there’s also a reason God gave you certain skills.

There are literally hundreds of ways you can start a side business in college. Since I promised you guys a highly tactical article, I will list the easiest side businesses to start in college with little funding.

  1. Landscaping services. Cut grass in the summer, rake leaves in the fall, shovel snow in the winter, setup the yard the in the spring. Very little startup funding is required. Marketing consists of putting up ads in your community.
  2. Start a blog. If you have some extra time in your day and decent writing skills then this could be a good fit for you. You won’t make a lot of money but it’s a profitable hobby. I covered how to start an online business in a few minutes already.
  3. Tutoring business. My friend worked for his college as a tutor and decided to branch off on his own after a year. Put up a bunch of flyers and spread the word any way you can about your tutoring services. Just remember you must truly know your stuff if you want to teach others.


Now it’s time to look at saving money!

Entertainment/partying it up on a budget.

Going out and partying is the best part of college! I don’t care what anybody says.

Whether you meet up with your girlfriend, go for drinks with other students in your major, or just meet up with a few close buddies to hang out and drink, all college students do something for entertainment.

I will never ever tell you guys to not party at all because you would probably close the article right about now while thinking this blogger guy is full of garbage.

It’s completely unrealistic to try to save money by telling yourself that you’ll never go out when you go to college because that won’t happen.

The trick to surviving through college financially when it comes to partying is to consciously plan your spending on entertainment. You must wisely pick your nights out to ensure that they will fit within your budget and more importantly, your goals.

When you do go out it’s important that you take advantage of the many money saving options: go to places on campus, use your student status for discounts, consider staying in at some one’s place, or use online resources to find hot deals in your city. I don’t want to repeat myself too much. Just read the following article…

[Must read: the financial stud’s guide to drinking.]

Making Money In College

If you’re similar to how I was as a first year college student, meaning that you don’t have much interest in entrepreneurship then the best option is to try to find work around your college campus.

You’ll be surprised when you enter college and see how many student work opportunities are available.

The reason working around your college campus is worth it is because you’ll network with other faculty (students and even professors) and you could potentially build a reputation around campus that could pay dividends for many years to come.

I won’t leave you guys hanging by just telling you to work around your college campus. Allow me to tell you exactly what jobs to look out for around your college campus:

  1. Tutor (prove that you are extremely knowledgeable at something).
  2. Department Assistant (chance to work with professors).
  3. Teaching Assistant (meet many other students).
  4. Lab Assistant (work with even more professors).
  5. Any job in the school gym (best place to meet older college staff that is looking for help with fitness).

[Stop being a loser and get a job!]


“Did you study for the exam yet?”

A friend asked me this. I laughed because I did my best studying on my commute to college. The one hour ride was the best studying opportunity!

I absolutely feel the need to stress the importance of saving money on transportation when I talk to other college students.

The fuel for my passion on this subject is that a good friend of mine purchased a BMW in college… with his life savings.

Sadly the main reason he purchased this very used and very old BMW is to show to other college students that he isn’t middle class. Instead of using that money to help his family move into a bigger apartment unit he used all of his savings to pay for a car.

If you stay at home for college then try to find cheap methods of transportation to get to school. I know that the bus may take longer, it might be full of weird strangers, and it may seem like a major inconvenience at times.

However, the money you save will put you in a great financial position for you when graduate from college. Taking the bus has allowed me to travel twice a year.

What will saving money on transportation do for you financially?


Advice for parents of college students…

After readings hours upon hours of personal advice for college students I came to a conclusion: most of the advice is fairly judgmental/ignorant.

When you sit down with your child to help them with a budget/spending please remember that you were once a 20 year old college student.

Don’t tell your kid that they can save money by never going out or by cooking their own food everyday.

After stressing all month long for final exams, we all deserve to go out for a beer with some friends. I’m sure you did too when you were a college student. I have found that you need to be down to Earth and not come off as a preacher with our generation in order for your advice to be taken seriously.

Now it’s time to turn it over to you guys:

What do you wish you did differently as a new college student? What advice do you have for new college students?

3 thoughts on “The Ultimate Financial Survival Guide For New College Students”

  1. I couldn’t agree more about the pre-game advise. Only thing I would add is to be honest about you financial situation with your mates so you are all on the same page when you go out to club.

    Avoid people who think they are high class and only want to go to fancy clubs or drink premium alcohol.

    A friend dated a girl like this in college and it broke him financially. Better to be honest about who you are and manage other peoples expectations instead of destroying your financial backbone and picking up expensive habits…

  2. Before I started college, I was convinced that I was going to be financially stable due to my military status. I thought I would be getting as much free money as I can get from the military and never have to sign up for any scholarships. That is why my high school year was more relaxed than my colleagues who were stressed out on getting their scholarships. I also didn’t have to start college a year from my high school graduation due to my military training. However, when requirements and responsibilities hit; I found myself overly stressed by these loads of work that I have to do before college: financially aid, math placement test, and setting up my classes. The fact that orientation was the Friday before school starts, I was unaware of any information that could have helped me with finance. Now, I am left behind with a few thousands of dollars that I need to pay and no idea of how to pay it rather than using student loan. In reality, I probably have to get student loan. These advises are helpful, but I hope that it will truly help financially in college.

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