5 Ways to Avoid Being a Broke College Student


We all know how important it is to protect your online information and digital life. This is especially true for young professionals, as their 24/7 Internet connectivity and mobile devices keep them close to the source.

Unfortunately, this constant contact can leave you exposed. If your information has been compromised and shared on the Internet, it’s possible you could be at serious risk for identity theft and financial fraud. Most college students already have a limited income; however, a data breach or stolen identity can seriously affect your credit report and ability to get financing in the future.

Beyond keeping your online identity and information protected, there are other ways you can avoid or at least minimize the stereotype of the broke college student. Here are our top 5 tips to help you avoid being broke in college while instilling positive personal financial habits—many of which will benefit you for years to come.

1. Get a job.

It goes without saying that in order to pay for your expenses and have a bit of spending money, you will need some sort of income. Unless you have a wealthy benefactor, that means working at least part-time.  Keep the following in mind as you consider employment in college:

  • Location: On-campus jobs are often the best place to start because they are convenient, and you can work your hours around your class schedule.
  • Schedule: Flexibility is key when you’re a student. Make sure the open shifts fit with your availability and be clear with your potential employer about when you can and cannot work.
  • Related skills or experience: If you have previous experience, you have a leg up on other applicants for similar jobs, so consider starting there. So, if you’re really good with computers or speak more than one language, see if you can find jobs where those skills would be valued.
  • Career-relevance: A paid internship can provide twice the benefit—income you need now and work experience and references you can list on your resume later.

2. Learn to live on a budget.

Creating a budget may feel like some serious “adulting,” but it’s the best way to make sure you live within your means. You can still have fun while living on a budget, and you get to avoid the anxiety of wondering where all your money went and how you’re going to pay your bills.

Pay yourself first

Paying yourself first simply means taking a certain amount out of each paycheck and placing it directly into your savings before paying any bills or other expenses. This practice will ensure that you continue to build your savings, and your future self will thank you for it. It seems like you’ll miss it, but most people say they really don’t miss the little bit that’s skimmed off the top for a savings plan.

Track your spending

You really don’t know if you’re staying within your budget unless you know how much money you are spending and where it’s going. Tracking your spending can also help you make tweaks to your budget as needed or find out where you might be overspending. 

There are all kinds of ways to track spending, including spreadsheets, free apps, and even putting cash into different envelopes for different categories of expenses. You might need to experiment and figure out which method works best for you.

3. Become a saver.

Developing a habit of saving will serve you well throughout your life, and—when money is tight—having something set aside to help with big or unexpected expenses is essential. If you don’t already have a savings account, be sure to opt for one that has no fees (no monthly fees, transaction fees, etc.) and offers easy access to your money.

Are online savings accounts a good option?

Unlike local banks, online banks are available nationwide, which can be handy if you attend a college far from your hometown. And online banks are just as safe as traditional local banks. What’s more, because online banks don’t have the costs associated with actual physical branches, they are able to offer some of the best interest rates for their customers. 

Build an emergency fund

You never know when your car will break down or when you’ll get injured and end up in the emergency room. These types of unexpected expenses can wreak havoc on your finances. Especially if you don’t have money put aside and you end up having to pay those bills with credit cards.

To build your emergency fund, put aside some money from each paycheck and work toward an amount that will reasonably cover something like a car repair—maybe somewhere in the ballpark of $1,000. Then, you can add to it as you’re able. Once you’ve created this fund, don’t touch it unless there’s an actual emergency. (And, no, wanting to go to Cancun doesn’t count as an emergency.)

Create savings goals

College comes with some big expenses. Beyond tuition, you have book fees, lab fees, entertainment fees, etc. Maybe there’s a study abroad opportunity you’d like to take advantage of. Plan for these big expenses and set aside money to cover them. Not only will you help yourself now, but you will also be creating good habits for the future.

4. Take advantage of student discounts and free events on campus.

College is one of the only times in your life when you will have access to so many different types of events and activities—from sports to lectures to concerts to plays and art exhibits—all for FREE, or at least at deeply discounted prices. Use this time to enjoy as many free events and opportunities as you can fit into your schedule. Also, be on the lookout for any student discounts at local businesses and take advantage of them while you can!

Even places like big box discount stores might offer something for students (like the Sam’s Club Collegiate Membership card); this is a great option to split with your roomies and reap the rewards of bulk shopping.

Don’t be shy! Always ask. Literally everyone from restaurants and bars, car rental companies, mobile phone carriers, insurance companies, and retailers like J. Crew may offer student discounts.

5. Use credit cards with caution.

Although credit cards can be helpful and are even necessary at times, they can also be your worst enemy. Credit card debt can snowball if you aren’t careful. To avoid temptation and disaster, limit the number of credit card accounts you open, including store-specific cards (which are notoriously the worst in terms of high interest rates and brutal fees), and always pay your balance in full each month.

Once you get in over your head with credit, most people end up getting stuck in a seemingly never-ending downward spiral. So don’t try to keep up with that one trust-fund friend who seems to have it all. Treat yourself to some smaller things on occasion, but stay out of the debt deep end.