Have an Incoming College Freshman? Here are Six Must-Read Smart Money Tips

College is full of unanticipated costs. As a freshman, I learned this the hard way (i.e. never having enough money). When you live at home, you don’t quite realize just how many expenses your parents cover. Need to eat dinner? You simply head into the kitchen for some of your dad’s spaghetti. Running out of clean clothes? You start a load in the washing machine down the hall. In college, life isn’t so accessible. Eating dinner can mean choosing between plopping down $7 for a burrito or cutting costs by zapping some Easy Mac. Washing your clothes requires a literal handful of quarters (who even carries around change anymore?). And these are just the little costs. There are also textbooks to acquire, household items to buy, that midnight pizza party you just have to throw…

But fret not! We’ve put together some tips for managing your money and minimizing your college spending woes.

(Note to parents: Check out Greenlight to help your kids handle finances during their college transition.)

  1. Create a budget. This is the first, crucial step. Start by listing monthly sources of income, including allowances from your parents, income from any jobs, and savings. Next, list your anticipated living expenses for the month. Will you be living in a dorm or an off-campus apartment? Will you be on-meal plan or off-meal plan? Do you have a car or will you walk/bike to classes? What sort of regular expenses will you have (i.e. laundry, personal care items, household items, etc.)? Compare your expected expenses to your expected income (here’s hoping the former’s lesser than the latter).
  2. Look into loans and financial aid. It can be difficult to balance student loan payments against the cost of living and declining wages. If you will be financing your education through loans, calculate the exact size of your expected student loan debt upon graduation and make a plan for how you will pay it back. Apart from loans, be sure to look into financial aid. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is not your only possibility. Look into local scholarships, national scholarships, university-specific programs, and on-campus or work-study employment. 
  1. Cut costs where you can. While college is undeniably expensive, there are plenty of opportunities to cut spending.
    • Instead of buying brand-new textbooks from the bookstore, consider buying used books online, checking out books from the library, and reselling your old books.
    • Compare the costs of eating on-meal plan to eating without one. Many meal plans can cost upwards of $10 per meal. Look at the different plans offered by your college’s dining service and determine which, if any, offer a good value.
    • Finally, plan ahead. Instead of running to the on-campus market to buy toothpaste in the middle of the night, purchase necessities ahead of time and in bulk. I have yet to run through the eight tubes of discount toothpaste I bought on Amazon sophomore year.
  2. Find student discounts. Your college student status can actually save you money! Stores, local venues, restaurants, museums, and other services near college campus frequently offer student discounts, and these discounts can add up to big savings.
  3. Exercise caution with credit cards. I remember when I got my first credit card. Life was beautiful. With one small piece of plastic I could buy whatever my little heart desired. And then I got a call from my mom inquiring about the $150 I had spent at Urban Outfitters (#whoopsies). Morale of the story: these pieces of plastic are tied to real bank accounts. If you are not careful with your spending, you could rack up serious late fees and interest payments. So spend wisely and check out Greenlight, where we’re committed to helping you do just that.
  4. Finally, reevaluate your spending regularly. You might be surprised to find that you are spending much less money in one area or much more money in another than you initially thought you would. Knowing about any excessive spending is the first step to addressing it, and identifying savings in one area could allow you to spend more in another. Being familiar with your budget is the first step toward mastering it!


What Dave Ramsey Says You Should Teach Your Kids about Money

Dave Ramsey is an American financial author, radio host, television personality, and motivational speaker focused on encouraging good money management skills for all ages. But, he didn’t start out this way.

Dave made plenty of money when he was young, but poor money management decisions resulted in significant debt. As a result, he lost everything he saved and was embarrassed to ask for help. Dave was determined to figure out how money works and to better manage his situation. He read every book available, interviewed older wealthy individuals, and more. Ultimately, he realized that the world wasn’t out to get him. As it turns out, it was his own decisions that ruined him financially.

After moving back into real estate and bailing himself out of financial distress, Dave realized he wanted to help others with all the knowledge he had gained. He began Ramsey Solutions in 1992 to “counsel folks hurting from the results of financial stress.” Dave wrote several books on the subject and eventually started a radio call-in show that airs nationally.

As you can imagine, Dave has several tips for your kids to learn early. Check out just a few of these below!

See “9 Ways to Teach Your Kids About Money” here

Elementary School Age

  1. Use a clear jar for saving. There are a lot of piggy banks that are pretty cool looking! Try to find one that is also clear so your child can see their money growing. This should be a fun thing for you and your child to sit down and discuss. Watching three quarters turn into 8 quarters is a big deal! This will also encourage saving.
  1. Show them that stuff costs money. It’s one thing to have money and another to understand what it actually means. The next time you take your child to the store, have them bring some physical money with them from their piggy bank. When they find something they want to purchase, have them hand their money to the cashier. This will be far more meaningful than a simple lecture about money because they will visually witness the result.


  1. Teach them opportunity cost. Your kids need to learn that when they decide to purchase something, it generally means they can’t purchase something else. So, if they want to purchase a video game, show them that they won’t have enough money to pay for the new pair of shoes they want as well. Tradeoffs are critical, and can easily be taught in this manner.
  1. The importance of giving. Once your kids start making or saving money, take time to discuss the importance of giving to others in need. If they are passionate about animals for example, help them pick a shelter they can either give money or time to help out. Your kids will see that giving helps others, but that they will also feel good about it as well.


  1. Work for money. Your children will have a lot of free time during breaks, summers, and more. Helping them find a summer job at their local ice cream shop for example is a great way to show how working will provide them the additional money they seek.
  1. Teach them the danger of credit cards. As soon as your teen turns 18, they are going to want a credit card and will receive mail from banks trying to provide it to them with “attractive” promotions. Teach them why debt is dangerous and how to protect themselves.

These are just a few of the tips you can use to teach your kids how to manage their money. Its best to start as early as possible promoting positive money management skills because it will be a critical asset for your kids as they grow up.

See “Money-Smart Kids: The Top Tips Every Parent Should Know” here