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College Students: Here are 7 Ways to Save Money Before You Even Graduate

several college graduates in robes link arms and celebrate at their graduation ceremony.
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In college, I thought the only keys to my future success were studying and going to class.

But there was another aspect of my future that I completely overlooked: finances.

You might be so consumed by classes that you never even think of life after graduation. And the starkest difference between college and the real world will probably be your financial responsibilities.

Here are some of the easiest and most useful ways to plan for the future while you’re still attending school.

1. Start Building Credit Now

Post-grad life involves a lot of financial stuff: Renting apartments. Buying cars. Acquiring credit cards. You need credit to do all these things. And you need good credit to be able to do all of these things effectively.

As an undergrad, I never had to show anyone my credit score. I lived in a college dorm and ran from credit cards like  8 a.m. classes on Mondays.

I didn’t even know what my score was until six months after graduation.

Believe me — you don’t want to wait to build credit until the moment you need a good credit score. Start planning for tomorrow by working on your score now. Take small steps, such as using a credit card to buy groceries, then immediately paying off the balance.

As a result, when you walk off campus with your diploma, you can face your financial future with confidence.

2. Use Your Student Discount

There are tons of places that offer discounts to college students, — movie theaters, Sam’s Club, Amazon.

But I had no idea just how many places and brands offered student discounts until after I had graduated and could no longer take advantage of them. It’s truly astounding how much money I could’ve saved if I had simply searched for this information online!

3. Don’t Shop at the Campus Bookstore

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As of fall 2016, 82% of students still bought textbooks at their campus bookstores. That’s a surprise, considering there are all sorts of other resources to find cheaper books.

My first two years of college, I blindly bought my textbooks from the campus shop. In my third year, I rented from the bookstore, which was cheaper but still not the best deal. By the time my senior year rolled around, I had finally mastered the skill of buying and renting my textbooks online.

I saved a lot of money by taking advantage of the internet. If I had known about this tactic my freshman year, who knows how much I could have saved!

4. Sell Stuff to Underclassmen

I bought several items before moving into my freshman dorm that I quickly realized I had no use for.

My mini-fridge, for example. I used it for a year, then moved into a dorm with a kitchen that included a refrigerator. My genius solution was to store the mini-fridge in my friend’s basement “just in case I needed it.”

I definitely could have sold that appliance to someone living in a small freshman dorm room.

If you want to ditch your old textbooks, television or dorm decorations that no longer fit your lifestyle, find some underclassmen who have use for such items. Then pocket the cash. Or, you know, put it in a savings account like a responsible adult.

5. Run Away from Student Loans

cash in a jar.
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Student loans can seem like these magical funnels of money that pay for our educations… and occasionally a spring break trip to Panama City.

But take it from someone who knows —that student loan money is all too real. It adds up over four years. Or five or six, depending on how long you’re in school. And the worst part is, interest accrues! It doesn't take long for $30,000 in loans to turn into way more than $30,000 of debt..

So do a little research. It may be that taking out loans is a necessary evil. But perhaps you could pay for all or part of a semester with your savingst. Or get a part time job. A more drastic, but still responsible, option is to take a semester off to work. Your future self might thank you.

6. Start a High-Interest Savings Account

I regularly deposited money into a savings account when I was in college. However, I nearly emptied that account every couple of years to study abroad or make a huge purchase.

I wish I had started an additional savings account that I committed to never touching. One with a high interest rate. I would have been much more financially stable after college if I had thought ahead about my savings.

This might mean you find a conventional or online bank that offers a better interest rate than most. Or choose a money market account over a traditional savings account. Or, even better, start investing in a retirement account at a super young age. With all the money that accrues , 65-year-old you will want to give 18-year-old you a hug.

7. Set Up a Budget and Stick to it

Three young women hold up their degrees after a college graduation ceremony.
Laura Grace Tarpley, right, and her friends Paige McQuade, left, and Taylor Loveless after their graduation from Young Harris College in 2014. Photo courtesy of Laura Grace Tarpley

I’m in my mid-20s now and consider myself pretty financially responsible. I buy the cheap beer. I use supermarket discount cards.

But I have never, ever been able to create and stick to a budget.

If I could go back to college and do it all over, I would teach myself how to budget at a young age. If I had mastered the art when I was 18 or 19, I would be much better at it now.

Maybe you’re about to enroll in your first semester of college. Or maybe you’re graduating soon. No matter where you are in your college career, it’s not too late to start planning.

Laura Grace Tarpley is a teacher and freelance writer in Athens, Georgia. She spends all her free time playing with her new corgi puppy, Tuna.

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