While you’re working your way through college applications and financial aid forms, it can be easy to forget that once you arrive on campus, you’ll be paying for a lot of things—cleaning supplies, ride shares, toiletries, and snacks—on your own.

While these expenses may seem small, they can add up quickly. And if you don’t have a budget in place, it’s all too easy to overspend.

“Money management is a totally new concept for most college students,” says certified financial planner Lazetta Rainey Braxton, founder of Financial Fountains. “You want to save up as much as you can so that you have a cushion as you discover what’s important to you and how you want to live.”

Here’s how to financially prepare for the big transition.

Have the Money Talk with Your Parents Now

To set a realistic budget, start by asking your parents what, if anything, they’re planning to pay for while you’re in school. Are they going to keep you on the family cell phone plan? And if you’re taking a car to college, will they still pay the insurance? What about gas? If you go to the doctor, is the copay on you? Be sure to talk all of these things over so you’re not left making incorrect assumptions. “This is the area where there’s often a level of disconnect between parent and child,” says personal finance expert Dominique Broadway. “If you can understand how much your parents are willing to contribute, you can figure out how much you need to start saving now.”

Set a Budget

Once you have a sense of the help you’ll receive, you can set a ballpark figure of how much cash you’ll need every month. (It helps to overestimate so you’re not cash-strapped.) But budgeting isn’t an exact science. “Information is your best friend,” says Braxton, who recommends asking college freshmen how much they spend so you have a good starting point. Should you need a little help setting up your first budget, the Department of Education has budgeting resources for college students, so you can get a sense of what first-year expenses might be.


Get a Grip on Incidentals

At home, toilet paper, shampoo, and toothpaste always seem to just magically appear. So odds are, you haven’t really thought hard about how much basic household items cost and how often they have to be replenished. In college, you and your roommates will probably be on the hook for these everyday items. Next time you do the grocery shopping or accompany your parents to the store, take the opportunity to note how much each personal-care item costs and build this into your budget.

Open a Bank Account

You’ll need a place to put your newfound savings. You can get started now by setting up a quick and easy account with an  online bank. Or when you get to college, you can either open an account with your school’s credit union (if it has one), or choose a bank that has a local branch near your college campus (this will help cut down on ATM fees). Credit unions often have lower fees and interest rates, but with fewer branches you may find that it doesn’t fit your lifestyle. No matter which you choose, make sure you set up both a checking and savings account, so you’re ready to start socking away cash from day one.

Stash Away Your Gift Money

Take advantage of all the free money that may come your way this year, from holiday gift cards to birthday cash to graduation checks. “Be very intentional with that money and make sure you’re putting it into a separate account,” says Broadway. “If you don’t trust yourself not to spend it, consider asking your parents to hold the money and only give it to you when you arrive at college.”

Land a Summer Job

Summer jobs are a smart way to beef up short-term savings, but they can fill up quickly. Start looking for job opportunities as early in the school year as possible. Once you have a job, Broadway recommends setting direct deposit up so a portion of every paycheck is automatically deposited into a savings account so you’re not tempted to spend it. Plan to do the same thing for any job you hold during high school and in the future.

Ask for Deals

A new computer, dorm decor, and other back-to-school supplies can chip away at your budget before you even set foot on campus. The good news: Many businesses—from local shops to big retailers—offer student discounts. As you start to think about shopping for college, make it a practice to ask every cashier if they’ll be able to lower the price if you show a student ID.

Bottom line: The fact that you’re even thinking about saving before you get to school will give you a huge advantage during your first semester. Thanks to your wise choices, you’ll spend less time stressing over every swipe of your debit card and more time exploring campus.

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