With the spring semester kicking into high gear, chances are good that your to-do list is growing longer by the day. In those rare instances when you’re not laboring over a paper or attending a club meeting, consider taking some time to get into better financial shape. It doesn’t have to involve a lot of work, and it can set you up for success down the road. Here are four straightforward money moves to get you started.
Look for a summer job or internship
A summer job or internship supplements what you’ve learned in the classroom with real-world experience. You’ll not only gain more insight into your chosen field, you’ll also bolster your resume and show potential employers that you know how to make use of your long summer breaks.
Competition for the best summer spots can be fierce. To get a leg up, reach out to alumni for informational interviews. Ask what strategies they used to jump-start their own careers. This process can also help you identify places or industries where you might want to work. If a potential job or internship calls for letters of recommendation, be sure to give your professors or other references plenty of time to write them.
Take advantage of student discounts
From being able to pursue your academic interests to living with your best friends, there are many perks to being a college student. Don’t forget to take advantage of the financial ones as well.
From reduced-fare public transportation passes to discounted museum and movie tickets, most schools make it easy — and cheap — for their students to escape the college bubble. It’s up to you to find out where flashing your student ID will save you money, and websites like StudentUniverse.com are a great place to get started.
Build an emergency fund
Smart money habits last a lifetime, and there’s no better time than college to start developing them. One of the smartest: building an emergency fund for unexpected expenses.
“This is not ‘my-friends-are-going-out-but-I-don’t-get-paid-until-Friday’ money,” says Carrie Houchins-Witt, a financial advisor in Coralville, Iowa. “Appropriate uses for emergency funds would be an unexpected car repair, medical expense, or airfare to get home to care for an ailing parent.
“Expected expenses, like textbooks, meals, and entertainment, should already be in your budget,” she says. “When an expense comes up that isn’t in that budget, it’s time to tap into your emergency fund.”
Without a rainy-day fund to lean on from time to time, you’ll be forced to either borrow money or use a credit card. Far too many 20-somethings start their adult lives in serious debt, says Houchins-Witt, who advises students to put aside $50 to $100 per month.
Sell your old textbooks
The average college student will fork over about $1,200 for textbooks and supplies each year, according to the College Board. To offset some of those costs, consider going online to sell used and unwanted textbooks. Websites like Cash4Books.net make this process quick and easy, and will typically offer you more money for your books than your campus bookstore.
“We have an iPhone app that lets students scan their books’ barcodes to get a quick price quote,” says Michael Guthrie, marketing coordinator for Cash4Books. “This gives them a better sense of the value of their books.”
Wherever you end up selling your textbooks, be sure to take the time to compare buyers. Getting an additional $10 for a book from one website might not seem like a lot, but it’ll add up quickly if you’re selling a semester’s worth of books.
There are better ways to save money in college than surviving solely on ramen noodles and doing your laundry only once a month. Whether it’s regularly stashing some cash into savings or taking a few hours each week to look at summer jobs, incorporating a few of the above tips into your daily life will help put you on a path toward financial security.
Illustration by Dora Pintek