Are You Ready to Adult? The College Student's Personal Finance Preparedness Guide

You've got the applications filled out and you have a list of your favorite schools — but what about your financial plan? While it’s easy for money management to slip your mind, planning for college financial management now can save you money-related stress later (like, during finals). Get these essentials covered and you'll be in good shape to ace your budgeting all year.

Budgeting With Lump-Sum Payments

Your first step to staying financially stable in college is to figure out how much cash you'll have coming in. Chances are a significant chunk of your income will come from financial aid, scholarships and/or private or federal loans. That could mean you'll get "paid" only once a semester, which can make monthly planning difficult.

“One of the biggest mistakes students can make is to put their entire loan amount in their checking account without a plan,” says Yohance Harrison, Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor and wealth advisor based in Florida. “I encourage students to think about their money in weekly, biweekly or monthly chunks. Put large payments into a savings account, then set up automatic deposits into a checking account you use to pay your expenses," Harrison advises.

Spending Your Money Wisely

Planning how to cover your costs becomes a bit easier to manage once you’ve determined your monthly income. Build fixed essential costs, like rent, utilities, phone and transportation into your budget first. From there, determine how much you'll have left to cover food, extracurricular expenses and other discretionary spending.

Use budgeting software like Quicken Starter Edition to help you build essential and discretionary costs into your budget. Using budgeting software means you’ll also find out early if you’re spending more each month than you have coming in, so you can adjust your spending and avoid running out of money mid-semester.

Credit Card Concerns

You may feel tempted to take out a student credit card, but proceed with caution. Don’t take out a credit card until you’ve made your expense plan and you’re sure it’s actually covering your costs. “If a student’s only source of income is their excess federal loans, a credit card is not a good idea,” advises Harrison.

If you’re working during school and can show you’re able to make the minimum payments, taking out a card can build your credit history. But you should only use it to make regular purchases that you’ve already budgeted for and pay off the card in full every month.

The Payoff: Benefits for Your Future

The budgeting you do in college is great preparation for money management when you’re out in the world after college. “Most jobs pay periodically, not all at once,” says Harrison. “If students can train themselves to live on a budget or a spending plan, they are less likely to splurge when they receive large sums of money in the future, like bonuses or tax refunds.”

Get in the habit of creating and sticking to a budget, and use budgeting software to track your purchases — Quicken Starter Edition’s snap and store function keeps digital receipts. The software can put you on track for smart spending after graduation and better financial stability for the rest of your life.

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