You’re about to embark on the biggest and most exciting adventure of your life. Your first year of college. Your first taste of independence and autonomy. The all-important early steps on the path to your future career. As much as this is a time in which to learn, have fun and decide what kind of person you want to be, it’s also a time where you inevitably realize that the decisions you make now will shape the kind of person you become in later life.

While it’s a well-established cliche that all students hear ad nauseum… these have the potential to be the best years of your life. Do you want to look back on them with nothing but fondness, or do you want them to be tinged with regret. Regret that you missed out on a great day out with your friends because you didn’t have any money? Or that your financial worries kept you lying awake night after night or interfered with your relationships or studies?

College isn’t just about acquiring academic knowledge and skills. It’s about learning the life skills that you will carry with you throughout adulthood. And if you start forming good money management habits in your college years, they will pay dividends for the rest of your life. They’ll help you to have a healthy savings account when the rest of your friends are still living hand-to-mouth. They’ll ensure that you’re among one of the first in your friendship group to buy their own home. They’ll help you be able to retire comfortably some day rather than working into your 80s. With all of that in mind, let’s look at some essential money management tips for your freshman year. If you stick with them now, you’ll find that you can enjoy the best years of your life in good financial standing.

Take the time to choose a good student loan servicer

When you’re starting out in college, it’s likely that your primary source of funds will be your student loan. Yet, while you could be forgiven for thinking that one student loan is much the same as any other, believe it or not your choice in loan servicer can make a big difference.

Your student loan is an essential resource in helping you to pay for life’s little essentials while you study. Unfortunately, it can also become a debt trap that has lasting repercussions and can see you either buying a house or getting married later in life than you might want to.

When it comes to student loans (as with any form of debt) it can be supremely tempting to set your monthly repayments to the minimum and simply bury your head in the sand. Unfortunately, this can see your student debt follow you around for much longer. The more you confront your student debt, the easier it is to manage.

With that in mind, you should opt for a student loan servicer that makes it easier and more transparent to manage your student debt. Student loan servicers like Great Lakes are counted among the better loan servicers because they not only offer flexible payment plans and options on private and federal loans, they also make it easy and effortless to track your debt and your repayments using handy mobile apps.

It may not be the most exciting decision you make in freshman year, but it can have a huge and lasting impact upon how easy your student debts are to manage both now and long after you’ve graduated.

Start looking for part time work as soon as possible

When you first start college, and that first loan payment arrives in your bank account, it’s not uncommon to get a little over-excited. It can be very hard to remember that the money in your account is your loan providers’, and not necessarily yours. As such, many freshmen blow through early installments of their loans fairly quickly, only to find that they struggle to make rent after the first couple of months.

As such, they start pouring into every bar, cafe, restaurant and store within easy reach of campus in order to find part time work. The only problem is that all of the best jobs have been snapped up by the early birds…

Make sure you’re an early bird!

Start looking for part-time work as soon as possible, even if you have enough of your student loan to help you live comfortably for the foreseeable future. There’s a good chance that it won’t last you as long as you think it will.

If you start trying to find work while your peers are concerned mostly with partying, you’ll be able to get your pick of the best jobs and always have a little extra money in your pocket to enjoy yourself in your downtime.

Remember that freelancing is always an option

Of course, taking a job in the retail or service industry may not be everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, you may be able to make more money than you could in a bar, cafe or store from the comfort of your own home by trying your luck as a freelancer.

If you have a valuable product or service that you can bring to the market, you have massive earning potential. In the digital age, students have access to the gig economy and can make good money doing everything from driving passengers to designing websites and mobile apps. There are lots of sites out there where you can make good money from your skills to say nothing of the multiple direct sales, multi-level marketing and affiliate programs out there.

Keep an eye on the little things. They add up to make a big difference!

Very often, a student in their freshman year will take a look at their bank statement and think to themselves… “How the Hell did that happen?”. They may wrack their brains thinking of big ostentatious purchases they made that might account for the unpleasant surprise on screen… but the truth is that it’s the little things that make a big difference.

It’s the Uber you got to your lecture because you overslept and didn’t have time to walk. It’s the pumpkin spice latte you bought to brighten up your monday morning. It’s the takeout you bought because you were too tired and / or stressed to cook. These little costs can quickly add up to make a big difference and they’re much easier to track when you…

Use a budget template

The best way to manage your finances is to keep track of every cent coming into and going out of your bank account. And that’s way easier when you use a household budget template. There are plenty of free ones online to choose from and they really do work… so long as you stick to them.

Get cooking!

Cooking is an essential life skill for a number of reasons. Firstly, it ensures that you can eat healthily and build meals around your caloric and macronutrient needs. Secondly, it helps you to keep your expenses under control. Even with all the seemingly awesome deals from fast food and takeout companies aimed at new undergrads, too much takeout can put a huge dent in your finances over time… and it won’t do any favors for your waistline either!

Know where to get emergency funding when you need it

Finally, no matter how well you manage your finances, every now and then you might be met with unexpected bills that you simply can’t repay using your student loan. These might include medical bills, car costs or (heaven forbid) the death of a family member. In these unavoidable circumstances, you may be eligible for a one-time only emergency grant from your college. Check in with your student services team and make sure that they have a grant of this nature. Different institutions have different names for it but it can be a lifeline just when you need one the most.

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