College students are often regarded as broke, financially irresponsible, and happily unemployed. While many of these remarks are true, this does NOT have to be you. I have compiled several FREE ways to help you manage your money whether it’s a couple hundred dollars or a few grand you have saved up from part-time jobs, birthdays, or other means. Before I begin, I would like to say that much of this advice revolves around the idea that you HAVE a part-time job / Federal Work-Study that brings in some weekly income. Too many students who complain about their financial situation have not made any effort to go out and look for a part-time job, typically using excuses such as “No one is hiring” or “My schedule is to crammed I don’t have the time” Chances are you have time. I know several Pre-Med and Engineering students taking rigorous classes Monday through Friday who are able to get their work done during the week and still have an available 20 hours for a part-time weekend job. Without further ado, there is free advice on making your money grow.

Put half of your paycheck away for a rainy day

First off, if you don’t have a part-time job in college you need one. There is nothing that will prepare you for the “real world” like multitasking a part-time job with your classes. Have some discipline and develop a plan where you pretend to only have half the money you’re taking in. Whether it be $50 a week or $100 a week being put off to the side, a penny saved is a penny earned and you WILL feel the benefits of this saving method as your money begins to grow each week.

Open a Scottrade or Merrill Lynch account and start investing

Many students feel that they are incapable of investing in stocks because they lack some kind of elite knowledge that only Wall Street bankers know. This is false. Buying common stock is very easy and a great way to invest long-term. All it takes on your end is some will-power to put money away for some time being and some research into growing companies. Take a look here at Chipotle’s five-year graph, a company we all live and breath. A $100 investment in 2010 would be a staggering $675 today. Or look at Apple’s  three-year graph, another company we’re all well aware of. A $55 investment in early 2013 could have amounted to $103 had you sold Friday October 2nd, 2014. The opportunity is there! Get involved and plan long-term. 

Do the math before you decide on grabbing take-out

So your weekly income is $100 a week from a weekend job that you put in a lot of effort into getting to work on time, and making sure your boss is happy. If you’re going to be spending $12 a meal for dinner four nights a week with your friends at overpriced fast food restaurants like Five Guy’s or Qdoba, acknowledge that although you can afford it, more than HALF of your part-time take home money is going towards something that can be healthier and more cost efficient for you and your savings. I’d be a hypocrite if I were to say I didn’t make this mistake my freshmen year of college, many of us in fact do. However, If your currently a freshmen or just started your sophomore or junior year, take the initiative to cook pasta with red sauce, chicken salads, or pizza it will save you HUNDREDS of dollars a month. How? A box of Barilla pasta cost 88 cents at a local grocery store, a single box can last one person three meals. A whole rotisserie chicken can be anywhere between $4.99-$6.99, this to can last one person three meals. That $1.89 water bottle that you’re buying with every meal can also be cut back by buying a 24 pack of Poland Spring, Crystal Geyser, or Deer Park for $2.99. Do the math.

Do not use your credit card if you can’t pay for it right then and there

A wise man once said, “If you can’t buy it in full, you shouldn’t have it at all” Unfortunately, in the era we live in, almost everything we want can be bought on credit or on a payment plan. Anything from cars, to cell phones, to that flat screen TV can be yours upfront with a payment plan that may last as long as 36 months. This can be a very poor financial decision as car values, iPhones, and other expensive material items have tendencies to depreciate in value very quickly. I was once told by my english teacher that he owed more on his 2008 Chevy Impala than the KBB valued it at. Don’t be my english teacher. If you can’t buy it in full, have the discipline to hold off on the purchase until it’s your time. Interest charges will also haunt you and your savings until your ready to switch to debit cards or cash for your transactions.

Start paying down student loan debt sooner rather than later

Very few students are able to completely cover the cost of a four-year college education and chances are, if you had 100% of your tuition covered you would not be reading this article. But for majority of us who do have some type of loan whether it be Federal or private, it is important to understand how much you owe, the interest that can build up on that loan, and the small amount of time you have to pay it back. Before taking on a loan, it is also important to research which providers offer the lowest interest rates, longest grace periods, etc. Because believe me, the time frame between graduating and time to start re-paying those student loans is NOT as long you think it may be! Once you understand the money you owe, maybe it would financially benefit you to take the advice given in number one, and put some of that rainy day money saved from your weekly paycheck towards paying down the money you owe in loans.