We've all heard our fair share of college clichés and daydreamed about weekly restaurant hangouts, Facebook-worthy photos of exotic college trips and unforgettable late night adventures with friends.
Unfortunately, college really isn’t as glamorous and carefree as the movies make the experience out to be. In reality, for most of us, college requires quite a bit of number crunching, working long hours and resisting the urge to splurge. Let's be real, college isn't cheap! There's tuition, room and board, living expenses… you get the idea.
Luckily, you can already start to lessen the financial burden now while you're still in high school. Check out these six ways for pre-collegiettes to save up money before going to school!
1. Get a job, any job
Talk about a tough job market! Adults are definitely not the only ones struggling to find jobs these days. What can a pre-collegiette possibly do in a situation like this? Not be picky, for one. So you're probably not going to get a paid job at your dream company, but that doesn't mean you can't get a job, period. It might mean wearing a ridiculous hat and handing out hot dogs while the sun is out and the palm trees are swaying, but by giving up a little fun now, you'll be getting a big payoff in the near future once you start college.
"I would definitely advise girls to take advantage of the summer as a time to make and save up money," says Sarah Desiderio, a senior at Penn State. "Get a job, pick up extra hours, babysit every chance you get. You may feel like you're missing out on fun, but trust us, college is so much fun that it'll be worth it."
Check supermarkets and retail stores to see if they're hiring students. Keep your eyes and ears open for anyone looking for a babysitter, a coach, a tutor, a dog-walker, someone to weed the yard or a person to clean out garages in the neighborhood. While certainly not glamorous, odd jobs will, well, get the job done.
"Sometimes you look and you look and you can't find a job, so that's when you resort to plan B, which is doing manual labor. For most girls, babysitting and being mother's helper, playing with the kids while the mom's at work, could be an easy way to make some money," says Paula Bishop, a college financial aid advisor. "And usually it's only during the summer anyway because kids have to go back to school in September, so it's kind of a natural ending for a high school student."
Not really into odd jobs? Well, luckily for you, summertime can also be a great time to look for a short-term job. "Normal jobs are actually more limiting because no one wants to hire you for three months, in general, unless it's a seasonal job, and they know you're going away so they don't look at you as a long-term employee, so they're more hesitant," Bishop says.
Once you have a regular paycheck, learning how to spend your earnings wisely is another important life-long skill to have. According to Bishop, the percentage of a paycheck that pre-collegiettes should save for the future really depends on how much you earn and how much your parents expect you to pay for personal expenses. "If [high school students] earn $50 per week and need to pay for clothes, shoes, gas and entertainment (and heaven forbid, their own cell phone), they have to watch every penny... so perhaps saving 25 percent 'for the future' would be a wonderful goal," Bishop says. "If the parents pay for everything, they should save all of it."
Working part time during the school year, plus full time during the summer, will not only make a financial difference, but will also give you the chance to grow and become more responsible. What future collegiette wouldn't want that? And who knows, maybe you'll even have enough to go on that spring break trip with your new college friends next year. Yup, totally worth it.
2. Cut back on expenses
It's fine to be a little impulsive sometimes, but impulse purchases are a whole other matter. Do you know how much junk food, magazines, make-up and clothes you buy that you don't actually need? All these extra items can quickly put a dent in your wallet. To save up the money that you already have in your bank account, cut back on things that you don't need. Watch your expenditures for one week, then assess your spending habits and see if there are any purchases you can cut out. You can even use your handy dandy smart phone to help you out—there are lots of apps to track your expenses like the free personal finance tool Mint, which lets you set a budget, track your goals and much more.
"It's so tempting to buy every cute summer outfit you see at the mall, but this is the time for self-control and thinking about the long run," Sarah says.
So if you find yourself bringing yet another tub of lip gloss or pack of candy to the check-out lane, give it a second thought and ask yourself if you would rather make your college fund a little bigger instead. Every dollar counts!
3. Use cash
There's really nothing like the feel of crisp dollar bills in your hands and the smell of money under your nose. In fact, you'll probably even feel a little bit richer just by having some cash in your pockets. Plus, you’ll be less tempted to spend all that hard-earned money when you’re actually watching it disappear!
Credit cards seem to swipe themselves; because they're just so easy to use, many people find themselves overspending. Making yourself pay in cash allows you to physically see how much you're spending, which can help you get a better sense of your spending habits and budgeting. "What I do is have a set amount of cash in my wallet that I've allotted myself to spend as opposed to using my debit card all the time," Sarah says. "That way I feel the pain of handing over the physical money and am more aware of my purchases!" Next time you're tempted to buy some extra nail polish or clothes, think of how you and your wallet will have to part ways with your newly acquired dollar bills. Remember, no one's making you say good-bye.
Irene Berman-Vaporis, a recent Boston University grad, also found it easier to save up money in a similar fashion when she worked at an ice cream shop the summer before college. "I limited my spending money to only the tips that I made while working, and I saved every penny I made from my paycheck," Irene says. "It helped that my paycheck was direct-deposited into my debit account each week, because I paid for everything using the cash I had earned from tips. That way, I could physically see when I was out of spending money." Having a wallet-full of cash might just be incentive enough to think twice about spending it all.
4. Open a savings account
Getting your own bank account feels so official and grown-up! Plus, it'll help you solve real-world problems like how to pay for college fees. Generally, there are two types of bank accounts you can get—checking and savings. A checking account is for your daily transactional needs like paying for a trip to the grocery store. A savings account, on the other hand, lets you accumulate interest on funds you're saving for future needs like your college tuition.
"[Students can] just go to a bank and say ‘I want to open an account,’" Bishop says. "If they are under 18, someone over 18 must be on the account as a joint owner (as a custodian, to make sure the kid doesn’t spend the money for something foolish)."
Swing by your local bank and see if there are any deals for students like you who are saving up for school. Once you make the initial deposit, all you have to do is keeping adding more money.
"Even though I was only working at a minimum wage job all summer, because I was able to save the entirety of my paycheck each week, I had enough savings for my textbooks and spending money for my entire first year," Irene says. A savings account can help you save up because once you deposit that paycheck in the bank for good, you'll probably be less likely to touch it.
Plus, you earn interest on the money that you save! While the interest rate may seem like a very, very small number, it definitely adds up over time. The sooner you open up a savings account, the more money you'll have by the time you enter college.
5. Sell stuff on the Internet
Do you have piles of stuff tucked away in your closet and under the bed somewhere that you just never use? Well, this is the time to put it all to use! Earn some money by selling your junk. After all, people could be looking for anything on Craigslist, and you might just happen to have what they need. Bishop said one of her sons sold furniture on Craigslist that other people were too lazy to sell themselves, and he made a couple thousand dollars that summer without finding a normal job. One girl's trash could be another girl's treasure!
Other websites that can come in handy include ExchangeMyPhone, where you can sell your old phones, and eBay, which is great for niche selling. While each website has its own rules, most are super easy to sign up for. A lot of the time all you need to get started is a PayPal account, which allows you to pay, send money and receive payments without revealing your financial information. Pretty cool, right? All you need to do is register a credit or debit card with your PayPal account. Then, PayPal handles your transactions for you without sharing financial details with other sellers.
And while we're on the subject of the Internet, don't be afraid to get creative with ways to earn money. For the artists out there, use that talent to sell your own products online on sites like Etsy.com. For writers, you can make money blogging. There are money-making opportunities online for everyone, so there’s no harm in having fun and earning some extra cash along the way.
6. Get good grades
When your parents told you that getting good grades is important, they weren't kidding! Although having a high GPA is not a direct way to save or earn money, it can cut college costs and make it easier to pay off your tuition fees. Getting good grades will help you become eligible for more scholarships and grants and can make it easier to win money that doesn't require repayment.
According to Bishop, while some colleges are primarily 'need-based' and don't give out merit scholarship for good grades because students need extraordinary grades and test scores just to get in, many others do offer awards for strong academics.
"An outside scholarship (not connected to the college) is a place where grades count and the student could hunt for scholarships that way, or go to a college that can give out merit awards (such as the University of New Haven)," Bishop says. "There are lots of websites a student can go to looking for scholarships."
Seriously, who doesn't want free money? It's ambitious to work part-time during the school year, so make sure that you can also keep your grades up at the same time. After all, it's no good to have a large college fund if your grades are plummeting!
Real talk: those big dollar signs that go hand-in-hand with a college education are intimidating, but if you start saving up money now, you'll make it a lot easier for yourself to pay off the costs of higher education. With lots of planning, saving up and probably a few less trips to the mall, you can conquer those college costs!