Managing money in college without family support

Kelli Grant of Smart Money joined The Daily Circuit last week to give students and parents guidance on money management during college, especially for freshmen. A caller towards the end of the show noted that not all students receive financial support from parents. So I asked Kelli if she could share a couple thoughts or resources for students in a situation where outside family financial support is limited or non-existent.

Grant’s two cents:

Not having any family financial help for college is a tough and intimidating situation, for sure. I’d say take a look, now, at some of the financial books and web sites that are out there to help recent grads manage money. Aside from sites like SmartMoney.com (where I write tips to save money and spend it wisely), I’d look at management tools such as Mint.com or Wesabe.com and books from authors the likes of Zac Bissonnette and Manisha Thakor. That’s just to start — there are tons of resources out there to help you figure out where your money is going and how to save on every single purchase. Don’t be shy about flashing your ID and asking for a student discount, either.

Without a financial safety net, try to put away at least 10 percent of whatever you earn in a separate savings account that you’ll only touch if there’s an emergency. To that end, I knew people in similar financial situations — including a friend who was an emancipated minor — who worked their way through college. Holding down a part-time job can be a great way to help build up your savings and offset college costs, but keep in mind that your education is still your primary investment. When you or your family are paying thousands in tuition and taking out student loans, it doesn’t pay to be working at another job so hard that your grades suffer. You still need time to study, to participate in activities and internships that complement your major, and to enjoy the fun experiences of being in college. I was a resident assistant until I moved off campus, and it’s something I’d recommend looking at – in a lot of cases it covers your room and board, which could help you reduce your student loan burden. Plus, that kind of people-management is great experience for a lot of jobs going forward. Another way to approach it: focus on class-work by taking more credits so you can graduate early. I knew a few students who managed to get out a semester or two ahead, which of course meant less in loans and other expenses.

I’m happy to chat with listeners/readers who have other questions. I’m on Twitter @kellibgrant, and on Facebook at facebook.com/kelligrant.money.