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Leave College Without Credit Card Debt

By D. Fowles

You're in college, so it's too early to be thinking of having a personal financial plan. That's for after you graduate and you're making the big bucks, right?

You're on your own for the first time in your life, and suddenly you have to juggle all of your own finances. You may have what seems like a large amount of money from student loans, financial aid, your hard-earned savings, and financial support from your family.

And then there's the credit card, or cards, that are suddenly coming your way. You buy clothes, gas, beer, pizza, concert tickets.

You party. Before you know it, you find yourself unable to pay your credit card bills, or you have no money left to buy books for your classes. Or you may get along just fine for awhile, only to have a rude awakening at some point.

Learning the Hard Way

Students figure they can spend now and make up for it later, when they'll have a good job. According to an advisor at a major university, more students drop out of college due to credit card debt than to academic failure. The best way to prevent this is to adopt a spending plan early in your first semester, and stick to it.

Like anybody else, college students are usually surprised at how much the little expenses add up to. A cup of coffee at the local coffee shop before classes each morning can total $46 a month, or nearly $200 a semester. Smoking is one of the most costly habits. At $3.50 a pack, a pack-a-day habit can total well over $400 a semester. It doesn't take much to reach thousands of dollars a semester on incidentals.

Students who get a handle on their spending and their available funds early can avoid the stress of being unable to pay off their bills and having to work more and more hours during college in order to juggle their finances.

The basics of budgeting are the same for students as they are for anybody else: list the sources of your income, such as savings from your summer jobs, financial support from your parents, financial aid from the school, scholarships, and income from your job if you have one. Then list your expenses, such as tuition, books, groceries, gas, entertainment, etc., in as much detail as possible. Print out the budget worksheets listed in the link box at the top right of this page, or make your own.

If your expenses are less than your income, you're in good shape as long as you stick to your spending plan. If your expenses are MORE than your income, you need to find ways to cut spending or increase your income.

A college degree is no guarantee of an ability to manage your money wisely. It takes effort and discipline, and the time to start is now.

About the Author: Deb Fowles, is an author, accountant, and small business consultant with a passion for saving, investing, making the most of her money, and teaching others to do the same. She is the author of "Everything Personal Finance in Your 20s and 30s," and "1000 Best Smart Money Secrets for Students".

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