Published in: Banks | Oct. 14, 2019

4 Money Mistakes I Made as a College Student

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Many college students make mistakes when managing money, but you don't have to. Here are four big ones to avoid. 

College is a time for learning -- and unfortunately some lessons need to be learned the hard way. For me, a lot of those lessons were about financial management. As a young, inexperienced college student on my own for the first time, I ended up making a lot of money mistakes, some of which affected me for years to come.

The good news is, you don't have to make the same mistakes I made. If you're heading to college and want to avoid the costly errors that impacted my finances, just read on so you can learn from my mistakes.

Woman having a total meltdown face down on desk and clutching hair amid calculator and stacks of coins.

Image source: Getty Images

1. Taking on more student debt than I needed

Student loans are actually a type of good debt -- when used to pay for your education and enhance your earning potential. Unfortunately, I didn't limit the amount I borrowed in student loan funds to only what was necessary to fund tuition. Instead, I ended up borrowing to pay for a car, a few nice spring break trips, and plenty of nights out. 

While college is a time to have fun, I should have been much more careful with my budget so I didn't end up graduating with quite such a large student loan balance. If I'd been more responsible, I could have saved myself tens of thousands of dollars. And that's money that it took me a long time to pay back. 

2. Living in an apartment that was too expensive

Another big way I increased the cost of my college education: I wanted to live in a nice apartment. I didn't realize there'd be plenty of time for that after graduation once I was making the necessary money to afford rent.

Instead, I agreed to pay rent on an apartment that took up a good portion of my monthly budget. That left me struggling to afford other expenses and forced me to borrow from my parents at the end of the semester. And of course, paying high rent didn't help me keep my student loan balance low either. 

The lesson: Live cheaply in college -- even in the dorms or at home if necessary -- so you have more money to enjoy life's luxuries later on, when you're actually getting a paycheck.

3. Opening up way too many credit cards

When I was in college, getting ahold of a credit card was really easy. It's harder now thanks to new consumer protection laws that require cosigners or proof of income before a college student can get a credit card. But there are still plenty of student cards out there that young people can get access to. 

Unfortunately, because access to credit was easy, I signed up for a whole bunch of credit cards -- and quickly got into debt. While I was able to pay it off, it impeded my financial life and took a big chunk of my money towards interest. And because I had so many cards, I also lost track and missed a payment on one. And that late payment lowered my credit score for years. 

4. Not paying interest on my student loans

Speaking of those student loans I took out. I didn't pay any interest on them while I was in school -- even though I sometimes had extra money to do as I worked during the summers. Unfortunately, this meant that interest continued to accrue on all of my unsubsidized loans during the whole time it took me to finish my education.

This interest ultimately got added onto my outstanding loan balance, which meant I graduated with more loans than I'd actually taken out. And I had to pay interest on the interest. 

Had I made at least some payments on the interest with funds from jobs I had during school, this could have been avoided. 

Money mistakes in college aren't inevitable

It can be hard to manage money when you're 18 and living on your own for the first time. But adopting some basic rules for spending and saving can allow you to avoid these big money mistakes -- and other costly financial errors as well. 

Simply borrow only what you need, avoid credit card debt, and be careful with your budget. If you do these things, you'll set yourself up for a more secure financial future after graduation. 

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