Ask the Readers: What Money Advice Would You Give a College Student?

Editor's Note: Congratulations to Linda, Diane, and Steve for winning this week's contest!

College students hear a lot of life advice from pretty much everyone around them, but tips on financial matters may not be at the top of their minds. Still, it's important for young people to know how to manage their money now — and in the future.

What money advice would you give a college student? Did someone give you this advice when you were that age, or did you have to learn from experience? Have you shared your tip with any college students you know?

Tell us what money advice you would give to a college student and we'll enter you in a drawing to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card!

Win 1 of 3 $20 Amazon Gift Cards

We're doing three giveaways — here's how you can win!

Mandatory Entry:

  • Post your answer in the comments below. One commenter will be randomly selected to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card!

For Extra Entries:

  • You can tweet about our giveaway for an extra entry. Also, our Facebook fans can get an extra entry too! Use our Rafflecopter widget for your chance to win one of the other two Amazon Gift Cards:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you're inspired to write a whole blog post OR you have a photo on flickr to share, please link to it in the comments or tweet it.

Giveaway Rules:

  • Contest ends Monday, August 25th at 11:59 p.m. Pacific. Winners will be announced after August 25th on the original post. Winners will also be contacted via email.
  • You can enter all three drawings — once by leaving a comment, once by liking our Facebook update, and once by tweeting.
  • This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered, or associated with Facebook.
  • You must be 18 and US resident to enter. Void where prohibited.

Good Luck!

Disclaimer: The links and mentions on this site may be affiliate links. But they do not affect the actual opinions and recommendations of the authors.

Wise Bread is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Guest's picture

Don't sign any student loan papers you don't fully understand and appreciate.

Guest's picture
Mary Happymommy

My advice would be to get a credit card to establish credit history, but only spend what you can pay off each month. Keep your balance at zero on that credit card.

Guest's picture

I would tell them to set aside a specific amount each month and try your hardest to make that stretch.

Guest's picture

Save as much money as you can and don't spend money on things you don't need.

Guest's picture
Ernest S.

Take the time and learn to budget every dollar. There are so many tools available now to make the process easier. In fact, I wish I had a smartphone and YNAB ("You Need a Budget" software) when I was in college rather than learning the hard way when I was starting my career.

Beth Buczynski's picture

Interesting classes (I'm looking at you liberal arts) are great but make a point to gain at least one SKILL while you're in school. Pick up a little bit of coding knowledge, admin experience, bike repair chops, or blogging know-how. This can come from work-study gigs, volunteer positions, or even Greek life. Chances are, these will come in handy long before your degree does.

Guest's picture

Don't borrow more than you have to. Try to buy your books cash, etc.

Guest's picture

Start saving early and often to take advantage of compound interest.

Guest's picture

Know what you want to study before you spend thousands of dollars on a degree. Also, don't sign up for Student Loans without realizing that it is a LOAN and you have to pay it all back. If you really don't like school, perhaps you need to look outside the college track and see what else you might like to do with your life. Going tens of thousands of dollars into debt to "find yourself" might have been a good idea when college didn't cost as much or more than a yearly salary, but it's an idea whose time has past.

Guest's picture

If possible, live in an off-campus apartment with a kitchen. You will save a ton of money on both the exorbitant cost of living in a dorm and the hugely marked up meal plan. Get in the habit of cooking, rather than ordering takeout or going out to eat. The crockpot is your friend!

Guest's picture

My advice is to rent textbooks instead of buying them. It will help to save money on books

Guest's picture

Don't sign up for many different credit cards! Pick one card and use it wisely. Only charge the amount you know you will be able to pay off at the end of the month or within a few months time frame. It saved me so much money in interest charges using this method!

Guest's picture
Happy Love

Stay away from credit cards.

Guest's picture

Getting one credit card is enough. Don't apply for a card just for a free t-shirt, you can buy your own t-shirt! haha!

Guest's picture

My two big spending mistakes a college student were 1) running about unneccessary debt and 2) buying things in the most convenient places at the highest prices (such as office supplies at the campus bookstore). If I had to do it again, I'd discover coupons, shopping only during sales, thrifting, etc. much earlier!

Guest's picture
Nicole Dz

My tip for college students is to Rent or buy used textbooks to save money.

Guest's picture
Tina in NJ

Know the difference between a want and a need. You need to make your girlfriend feel special on her birthday. You don't need to do with something from Tiffany! And start saving for retirement as soon as possible. This may feel optional, but it isn't.

Guest's picture

Unless you have a full ride, take as many classes that you can at a local community college. This will save a lot of money!

Guest's picture

Get a job while you are in school. It will help you learn the value of a dollar, budget your money, and maybe even help you save up a little bit before graduation. It will put you ahead of your peers to be able to put work experience on your resume, you will have professional references that others will not, and you will graduate already having an idea of what you do (and do not) want to pursue.

Guest's picture

If you can, take a personal finance course.

Guest's picture

Save a lot of money by spending your first two years at a good, public community college. Then finish your last two years at a good, public state college or university. Never, ever waste your time or money on any for-profit institution. For-profit schools have very little credibility with employers.

Guest's picture
Jennifer Marie

Buy used books when you can.

Guest's picture

If you have money left over from your loan disbursements, don't waste them on silly purchases. Save any extra loan money left over so you can pay them back faster.

Guest's picture

Whatever you do, don't sign up for new credit cards no matter how fun and easy it looks!

Guest's picture
Susan Smith

My advice is to work during the Summer, budget your money during the school year and buy used books.

Guest's picture

Don't take out more school loans than you need (try everything not to need any), read the loan paperwork and ask questions. If you have to have a credit card, have only one with a low limit. Either rent or borrow your textbooks, don't buy full price from the bookstore (except copy packs, ugh!). Pay on your loans while in school (two words, compound interest). Be frugal. Read money books to put your on right track; Total Money Makeover, Suze Orman, Investing 101, etc.

Guest's picture

If you have a scholarship, work hard to keep it! Live cheaply and don't get a credit card unless you're disciplined enough to pay it off monthly. If you need student loans, keep them as low as you can get by with.

Guest's picture

I just graduated with my PhD without taking out student loans. I had scholarships and I worked (sometimes several jobs). Ways to supplement and to network: look for free events on campus that offer food and arrive early. Most free food is gone pretty fast. Also, let it known you will do odd jobs, like watch dogs, etc. for professors. They travel a lot and pay very well for these relatively easy services.

Guest's picture

My advice would be: get $100 worth of quarters for the laundromat before you leave for school it'll last a good portion during the semester, and mom and dad would be embarrassed to find out if you've been wearing the same socks and undies for days at a stretch LOL!

Spread your money out! Get 2 bank accounts one at a traditional bank for all your main bills since they have locations everywhere and one at a credit union for saving all your spare change. Since credit unions have limited branches you'll really have to think about what you need that money for before using gas to go and get it.

Be careful with credit cards. 30 days and compounded interest really adds up fast!

Have a yard sale at the end of the school year. Why leave behind items you don't need when you can turn a profit on them. If you can't have a physical yard sale hit up your friends on Facebook might as well put social media to good use!

Always keep a sidehustle, that beer money has to be made somehow LOL! Whether you go to school full time or work and go to school there's always ways to make extra money Whether its mowing lawns on the side, using money making apps on your smart phone, or recycling cans. Be sure to check out your campus Psychology Department or other research departments. Some offer cash or gift cards for students who participate in research studies

Scour the news stands and libraries at school to see if they offer any free financial magazines and/or newspapers. When I was in school Young Money Magazine was given away free at the library. It had a lot of great financial advice just like Wisebread does, wish Wisebread was a magazine!

Guest's picture

Don't bother trying to keep up with all the gadgets, pricey clothes, cars, etc. that you see other students with. Either their parents are paying for it or they'll be graduating with even more debt.

Guest's picture

Before you create a budget, actually track your spending for a few months to see what you average in a few different categories. That way, you know where your money is going and can see areas to cut back on.

Guest's picture

Be careful about spending and borrowing. Remember that it may seem like a good idea at the time, but you will be paying for it for many years.

Guest's picture
Laura J

Oh I think my advice would be to be very careful with credit cards! They always have those recruiters trying to get them more cards...and so many times get too far in debt.

Guest's picture

My advice would be to not spend money you don't have and to really think about want versus need before making any purchases,

Guest's picture

Want to save money on books and supplies? Be friends with people who have similar majors as you. It doesn't matter if they are behind or ahead of you. They are willing to part with supplies, books, notes, etc. if you are trust worthy. I have taken same classes to share books and supplies and passed the "torch" of goodwill to them.

If you want to save on tuition it's also best to ask the professors just in case they know of any scholarships that they don't normally post.

Guest's picture

My advice to a college student would be to take out the least amount of student loans possible, and to save a portion of any income - opportunities that cost money could come up and you shouldn't go into debt for them, so have a budget and savings.

Guest's picture
Karen L. @love2lovemykids

My advice would be to differentiate between "wants" and "needs", limit borrowing to the absolute minimunm, buy used text books after finding out if former students enrolled in that class actually needed them.

Guest's picture
J. Pario

If you can't avoid loans.... and think very carefully before taking them out..... calculate what your monthly payment will be after you graduate. Keep track of these payments. "Let's see, $50 from last year's loans, $175 from this year's loan....." etc. Don't take out more loans if the expected loan payments exceed your worst-case, post-graduation income scenario. (And remember--some loans accumulate interest while you are in school.)

Check out your local community college. Cheaper rates and some have transfer credit arrangements with nearby 4-year schools, if that is where you are headed. (And classes at both will usually be taught by folks with similar qualifications. Actually, you are probably more likely to get a Ph.D English prof at the community college and a master's-level TA at the four-year college.)

Don't scorn trade school/community college type careers. Go for what you like. If you'd rather work with your hands, there are lots of lucrative, challenging careers out there for you, many in which you can end up running your own business. Don't go to a 4-year college on auto-pilot or because someone else thinks you should.

I have a Ph.D. in English literature. I'm not opposed to liberal arts or higher education! But you've got to do your research about your earning potential and then adjust accordingly. You can still major in art or literature--you may just have to fund it differently.

Guest's picture
Beth G

Do not fall for the credit card offers! Pay in cash :)

Guest's picture
Dee Dee

Still live at home if possible while attending a local college, oldest daughter did. When she decided to go on for her masters degree she had no student debt. Keep a side job while in school, I realize it is a lot of work but the cash comes in handy.

Guest's picture

Don't eat a bunch of fast food.

Guest's picture

Research all of your financial aid and scholarship opportunities. I received an additional $2k in scholarship money every year for writing an essay. A very nice pay-out for minimal effort. Apply for as many as you can, since the worst you can do is not be awarded the scholarship, and if you do the effort more than pays off!

I would also advise students should have some kind of job. I worked through college, and while it was difficult at times in the end it helped me to appreciate the worth of my money, how to balance my time, and prepared me for working after college. It also helped me to keep my student loan debt down by using the money I earned to pay for my dorm expenses out of pocket. I learned real-world job and financial lessons that are irreplaceable and still useful to me today.

Guest's picture

Spend wisely but enjoy life also. A ticket to a great concert is a better purchase than fast food lunches and dinners.

Guest's picture

My advice would be to learn to cook for yourself! That way you can save money on going out to eat!

Guest's picture

save save save! and definitely don't be embarassed to take a part time job (or two)

Guest's picture
Sally johnson

Take college courses in high school. Many public schools offer them and they are free. Credit will apply to a college degree. Also, take those AP courses! I knew one high school grad who had completed 2 years in college and had enough credits for a college math minor when she graduated high school.

Guest's picture
Rebecca B. A. R.

Take out as little debt as possible, pay back any debt you do occur as fast as possible, and read the book Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin, Joe Dominguez and Monique Tilford. I usually give that book as a graduation gift.

Guest's picture

Don't take out more student loans than are necessary!

Guest's picture

Make sure you get a good anti-virus program for your computer--malwarebytes antiviral and avast are the 2 I have used and work the best.

Guest's picture

Learn to manage your money now, so you're not paying for mistakes for years to come!

Guest's picture
Amanda Sakovitz

Dont open any new credit cards!

Guest's picture

In order of importance, in my opinion:
1) Start your habit of saving... even if it's just $5 a month. It's the best indicator of future success. If you can't save $5 a month, try $4 or $3. If you can't save anything, you are virtually condemning yourself to live paycheck-to-paycheck for the rest of your life, regardless of what type of income you'll earn after college. Saving is a commitment, not an amount!
2) Skip the credit cards. Unless you're extraordinary (as in, you are way outside the norm), you'd likely end up with thousands of dollars in credit card debt, have several missed payments, and possibly even a few accounts in collections. It's much easier to build credit from scratch AFTER graduation than rebuild bad credit. If I were an employer or property manager (both of whom will likely check your credit after graduation), I'd rather see no credit than awful credit. If you insist on building credit with a credit card, ask Mom or Dad to put you on their account as an Authorized User (not a co-signer). You inherit some of their good credit while they are not impacted by yours. Plus, they're ultimately responsible for paying the bill, AND they get to keep tabs on what your buying with credit (yes, you'll be MUCH less likely to buy non-necessities on credit, which is the whole point).
3. Don't take the max on your student loans just because you can. Know what you really need financially and only take out that much. This obviously requires you to create a semester spending plan, which should become a habit anyway. If you take more than you need, you'll spend it. It's human nature. Whatever you do borrow, try to make at least the interest payments plus $10 a month. Otherwise, you'll graduate with a student loan that's reporting as greater than what you originally borrowed (this looks like a maxed out loan to your credit score).
It's okay to eat ramen, mac'n'cheese and frozen burritos for a week or two (or three) at a time. If you're going to do any consumer spending (which I suggest you minimize), spend your money on experiences (a concert, a date, a trip, etc... this does not include eating out regularly, which is a waste of your money) rather than on amassing consumer products (TV, new car, Blu-rays, new smartphones, etc.) and getting into monthly payments (clubs, contracts, etc.).

Guest's picture

Go to class!! Figure out how much you are paying per credit hour and then think about that every time you feel like skipping or sleeping in. Save your money and don't try to 'keep up with the Joneses,' but also remember that college only comes around once so make the most of it! And if you have the opportunity, study abroad!

Guest's picture

Don't use a credit card unless you are going to pay it off every month.

Guest's picture

Be careful with student loans and understand what you are getting into.

Guest's picture
Thomas Murphy

Don't run up credit card debt.