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9 Financial Tips for College Students

You're done with college, and now you're ready to be on your own. Your degree could help you earn a higher salary down the road, but until then, knowing how to manage your money well is a valuable skill.

Young woman managing her finances on laptop.
  1. Find Ways to Save and Set Financial Goals
    Chances are you didn't live in your own house or apartment when you were in college. If you're on good terms with your parents and have the option, returning to live with them can be a huge bonus. You could use the saved rent money to pay down student loans, establish an emergency fund, and even start building a retirement account. If moving back home isn't an option, look for roommates to save on rent and utilities.
  2. Create a Budget
    As a college student, you probably got used to making your money last. Stay the course. A good way to live within your means is to figure out how much discretionary spending, that's what's left over after necessary expenses like rent, food and gas, you can afford each month. This will be easier to figure out after you've been working for a few months and have a better grasp of what your take-home pay is after taxes and other deductions. In building your budget, start with the essentials and ongoing bills, such as utilities, student loans, or a car loan. What's left over is yours to allocate for spending and saving.
  3. Simple Rules for Budgeting for Beginners
    • List out your bills: Subscription services can sneak up on you, and if you have things on autopay, it can be easy to lose track of exactly what you're paying for. Make a list of everything that's coming out of your account so you can compare your services and add up costs. The WaFd Bank app offers Bubble Budgets to make this task easy. See every transaction across all your accounts, even those with other banks, in categories that make sense for your specific budget.
    • Look for what you can do without: Is Amazon Prime a necessity? Maybe, maybe not. What streaming services can you take out? If you have more than two or three, that can be just as expensive as paying for cable. If you already have the bare necessities, here are fourteen ways to cut household expenses and save.
    • Stick to saving: Even if you save just $20 a month, it really adds up over time. After a year, you'll have $240. If you keep it in an account that gives you interest, you'll have even more! Remember, your budget isn't set in stone once you create it. You might start making more money, or find ways to save on bills. Your budget will grow right along with you and your lifestyle, but for now, keep track and decide how your money will work for you.
    • Make changes as needed: Your life isn't set in stone, so your budget should follow suit. Sometimes you might need a bigger budget for entertainment (hello summer concerts), and sometimes you might need more for food and other things, such as during the holiday season.

  4. Best Bank Account for College Students
    The best bank account is one that meets your needs and ideally has a branch nearby in case you want in-person help. For most students, that means the basics that any bank account should automatically come with, such as online banking, mobile banking, mobile photo deposit, and person-to-person payments (such as Zelle). An account with no fees is a great option, like Free Checking* from WaFd Bank. Everything you want in a checking account, none of the hassle.
    Where you want to do more research is up to you. Do you want a bank with the latest technology or the best customer service? You'll get both when you bank with WaFd Bank! Not only will you get the latest in digital tools, like Voice-Activated Banking, you know you'll get the best in customer service at over 200 branches across the West Coast. WaFd was voted Best Bank by multiple companies many years in a row!
  5. Build and Protect Your Credit Score
    Having good credit history is essential for your future financial goals, like buying a new car, a house, and much more. Plus, you'll have better interest rates and generally more financial opportunities in the long run if you have good credit. One good way to do that is to make regular, small purchases and pay them off right away to establish creditworthiness. More on that in How to Use Credit Cards Wisely.
  6. Pay Off Your Debt
    It might be a while before you can pay off your student loans, but you can still do your best to pay off your other debt as quickly as possible. Not only will this open your budget so you can afford to do more, but you also have the opportunity to put more towards paying off your student debt if you can swing it. Keep in mind that the more debt you have, the more interest you'll end up paying. That means you could be paying for whatever you bought two or three times over compared to paying in cash. There are different strategies to pay off debt; find the one that works best for you and stick with it. One strategy is the snowball, which is when you pay off the lowest debt first and make use of that extra money to pay off the next lowest debt, snowballing your payments to get all your debt paid off much faster than you would if you made minimum payments.
  7. Invest in Your Future
    Historically, buying stocks or mutual funds when you're young can be a good way to build a portfolio, because you have decades for your money to grow. In other words, you have time to ride out any market declines and earn good long-term returns. Similarly, starting a retirement savings plan early pays dividends. It's particularly helpful if your employer offers to match your contributions through a 401(k) or other plan. If your job does this, start contributing right away and make the most of the match. One last piece of advice as the paychecks start rolling in is to live within your means. That might be a bit difficult at times, but you'll be glad you did later on!
  8. Set Financial Goals
    Think about what's most important to you. Having an emergency fund? Buying a car in cash? Starting a business or taking a dream vacation? Whatever it might be, having a clear goal will help you to build and keep motivation to save. Break down your goals into manageable steps, have an end date in mind to look forward to, and celebrate your hard work along the way.
  9. Only Take Advice from Reputable Sources
    While TikTok and YouTube have lots of great content, not all of it should be taken seriously. There is plenty of "financial advice" out there that will lead you astray. Before following advice from anyone, look at their qualifications. For example, are they a registered certified financial advisor, certified public accountant, or registered investment advisor? If not, take what they say with a grain of salt. If you don't feel comfortable going to your family or friends for advice, there are reputable resources to help you understand personal finance, such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (a branch of the federal government), or you can find lots of good articles, coaches, and courses through financial wellness companies like Banzai.

WaFd Bank is Here to Help

No question is too small for our friendly bankers! With WaFd Bank you also have access to tools and services to help you manage your finances and get the most from your money. We even offer Free Checking* with no minimum balance or monthly maintenance fees, access to over 40,000 fee-free ATMs, and more! Visit us at your neighborhood branch, give us a call at 800-324-9375, or check out what WaFd online banking has to offer.

*Nonsufficient funds charge may apply.


Find your local WaFd Bank Branch


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