15 Money and Life Lessons for College Freshmen

15 Money and Life Lessons for College Freshman | www.TheHeavyPurse.comTanya from Eat Laugh Purr is back to share some practical advice to college freshman.

Everyone has heard of The Freshman 15. Those dreaded fifteen pounds that somehow magically find their way on to your hips, gut, butt and/or thighs. It’s not an urban legend, folks. It’s something almost every single freshman will battle. But carrying a few extra pounds isn’t the only danger freshman face. There is also a lesser known Freshman (and Sophomore, Junior and Senior) 15 that many gain in debt. Those fifteen pounds of debt are just as unhealthy but far less discussed.

15 Ways to Stay Financially Trim and Fit in College

College and excess seem to go hand-in-hand these days, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can still have fun while not getting bloated with debt.

1. Get 1 Credit Card and Use It Wisely

You may have expected me to recommend that you avoid credit cards. Nope. I want you to instead learn how to use one wisely and to your benefit, which means NOT CARRYING A BALANCE. To use your credit card to build a healthy credit score that will show future landlords and prospective bosses that you are a responsible adult worthy of their apartment and/or job.

Weight Loss Tip: If your credit card gives you a high credit limit, say anything above $1-2K, call them and have them lower it. This way if you do go overboard and binge, you at least limit the damage.

2. Use as Little Student Loan Money as Possible

This won’t apply to everyone, but if you took student loans, don’t treat that money like it is free. It’s not. Twenty years from now, when you’re still paying off your student loans, you will really regret all the stupid things you bought that had nothing to do with getting a college degree.

3. Follow a Budget

To help you stretch your money, you need to create a budget. This is not a bad thing. Or punishment. Instead think of budgeting as a way to make sure that you have money for the things you enjoy most. Figure out your expenses (your non-discretionary expenses) and what you have left is your fun (or discretionary) money to use on what matters most.

Weight Loss Tip: Initially budget generously for expenses because you will likely need to buy things Mom and Dad previously bought for you, such as shampoo, soap, deodorant and food. You will also quickly learn why you got yelled at for using (or eating) so much. Things are expensive.

4. Get a Job

Whether on-campus or off, find a part-time job. This will help minimize your reliance on student loan money and give you valuable experience. School work certainly comes first, but in all honesty, I’ve never seen a part-time job truly be the culprit behind poor grades. Let’s get real — it’s those nights out that cause trouble. And a part-time job may mean occasionally missing a night out with friends, but you need money to do that, right? I thought so.

5. Set Short-Term and Long-Term Goals

If you want to party with your friends on Spring Break, fine. Save for it and don’t fund it with student loan money or your credit card. Or maybe instead you want to spend the summer between your junior and senior year pack-backing through Europe. Great, than plan and save for it. It’s time move from being reactive to thinking big picture about what you truly want while you’re in school and afterwards, so you can start planning (and likely saving) in order to make your goals a reality.

6. Find a Mentor and Network

You’re going to meet a lot of people in college. Some connections you forge will change your life forever, personally and professionally. Look for those connections and find someone to mentor you, whether it’s to help you navigate successfully through college or to help get your foot in the door at your dream job years later. And when it is your turn to be the mentor, step up to the plate and return the favor.

7. Discover Your Passions

College is where you start to uncover who you are and it often begins by discovering what you love. Do something you’ve always wanted to try or something that scares you. Start new hobbies and abandon them without regret if they don’t make you happy and pursue something else that does. This is about what makes you happy, not about doing what makes others happy.

Weight Loss Tip: Still remain mindful of how you spend your money. It’s okay to invest money into figuring out what you love but avoid creating debt. Debt is the ultimate passion killer.

8. Build an Emergency Fund

While I green lit you having an a credit card to establish a good credit score and to learn how to use one responsibly, it should not be considered your emergency fund (this is how a lot of smart people end up gaining those 15 pounds of debt). You should actually have a small emergency fund because your car will still break down, you will lose your cell phone or spill soda over your laptop. Having an emergency fund is a good habit to form while you’re in college.

9. Don’t Play Keep Up

Thanks to the omniscient presence of advertising and social media, we battle those keep up urges starting at a very young age. For many young people, the first time they really hold the power (i.e. credit cards and/or extra student loan money) to actually keep up on their own is in college. Please, please DO NOT fall prey to those urges. You must be strong and not follow the herd, but your heart, values and goals. It may still lead you to the same place, but at least you know it is because YOU want it. And how do we get the things we want? We save for them. And buy them guilt-free and joyfully.

10. Get Outside Your Comfort Zone

Most young people have lived relatively sheltered, insular lives under their parents watchful eyes and set by their friends’ norms. Now you are on your own and less encumbered. This is not permission to be reckless or to do dangerous things. But an opportunity to expand your horizons and experiences. To widen your perspective. A chance to explore new cultures, different activities, people and places.

11. Get Involved with Your Community

Be active in college. Join organizations and clubs. Participate. Don’t sit on the sidelines; get involved. The relationships and connections you make will be invaluable. It will also look good on your first resume when you’re very light on experience. Impress your first employer with the various activities you supported and any leadership roles you held.

12. Become Self-Sufficient

College is that bridge from childhood to adulthood and where you truly become self-sufficient. Mom and Dad are always going to be there for you and should still be your first call when you run into unknowns. But now is also the time to learn how to thrive. To develop the skill-sets to live on your own and make smart financial decisions, so you can bid adios to the Bank of Mom and Dad and walk on your own two feet financially.

13. Allow Yourself to Make Mistakes

No one likes to make mistakes but you will make some, both financially and personally. Period. Don’t waste precious time beating yourself up over them. Nor should you use them as an excuse to give-up. Instead do the only thing that matters: learn from them and move on.

14. Value the Learning Opportunity You’ve Been Given

College for many has become an expectation, but it is a privilege. Treat it as such. You’ve been given a huge opportunity and advantage that many people both here in the United States and around the world do not have. You’ll no longer have anyone telling you what to do and experience freedoms that you’ve never had before. Don’t abuse this power. Respect it because you can also lose it. Channel your energy into learning so you can not not only make your own life better but also the world.

15. Have Fun!

And lastly, have fun! Being financially healthy and real does not mean you must forfeit fun. In fact, fun should always remain on the table. Be smart about it and you’ll learn that you can have your cake and eat it too, without gaining weight or debt, if you save for what you truly want.

What advice do you have to incoming freshman to help them avoid The Freshman 15 (debt or otherwise)? How did you stay financially trim in college?

TanyaTanya is a freelance writer, web designer and blogger. You can find her at Eat Laugh Purr where she and her ginger tabby, Max, enjoy simple pleasures every day and at TV Fanatic reviewing Madam Secretary and more. Connect with Tanya on twitter and Pinterest. And please, no judgement on the number of cat pins I have.
August 14, 2015  •  15 Comments  •  College

Leave a Comment


  1. Friday, August 14th, 2015
    Great tips. I wish colleges did a better job teaching financial literacy...maybe they do now but it was rarely mentioned when I was in school. Fortunately, I was pretty frugal back then. Though I knew kids who got into trouble with credit cards and taking extra student loans to live extravagant lifestyles which they assumed they would easily pay off once they got a "real job." I do regret that I wasn't as active in the community and that I didn't take advantage of all the resources that most colleges provide.
    • Sunday, August 16th, 2015
      I wish a personal finance course was a requirement too. It would seem logical and frankly more beneficial than a lot of general courses that we are required to take! Maybe some day! Looking back, I wish I had been more open to new experiences too, like trying out for the theatre and joining clubs outside my major.
  2. Friday, August 14th, 2015
    These are such great tips…but I have to admit most would be lost on me as a 17-year-old entering college. I think if stronger money values were instilled in me in at younger age, perhaps, but I was stupid and selfish back then and only thought about myself and school. Thankfully my college was paid for though. I hope some take your words to heart!
    • Sunday, August 16th, 2015
      I always think that's the tough part - when we really need this advice - we're too young (or too immature) to really embrace it. It's the old hindsight is 20/20 rule. :) Hopefully a few take it to heart!
  3. Friday, August 14th, 2015
    In my opinion, some colleges do a terrible job at explaining how student loans work and the various options available, which is why your second point about "Use as Little Student Loan Money as Possible" is something every first year college student must take note of. If the student didn't grow up in a family that was financially savvy, they might be confused by the various options and how it will impact them down the road.

    During my undergrad, I knew several friends that confused scholarships and federal loans, meaning they thought the federal loans (financial aid) they received was "free money" provided by the government, so they used that money on things they wanted rather than needed. Even though those loans could have been subsidized (i.e. not earning interest) during their college education, I am unsure if they realized (at the time) they would have to pay that money back.
  4. Friday, August 14th, 2015
    Many treat student loans like they're free money but they definitely are not. The other day my sister asked me how much in student loans she should take out and I told her the absolute minimum. I'm glad she took my advice!
    • Sunday, August 16th, 2015
      Yeah! I'm so glad she knew to ask you for advice AND to follow it! I know so many kids who thought they had found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow when it came to their student loan money. They couldn't spend it fast enough. And almost all of them, really, really regret it today. In fairness to kids, most won't realize the dangers in taking more than they need, which is why parents really need to step in and help make the decision too.
  5. Friday, August 14th, 2015
    Hi Tanya,

    This post is just in time for me to share with my daughter. She is leaving for college in a couple weeks. I'm not sure if I can trust home girl (hehe) with a credit card...she doesn't even trust herself, what does that tell ya. ;).

    We're still not sure how we're going to give her access to money. We're thinking prepaid card for starters.

    For the first two years, her tuition is very manageable. We can pay for it along with scholarships and steer clear of student loans.

    We've already talked about her budget and how she is really going to have to be smart with her money. Her expenses are taking most of her income and we're going to be there for her to help her out but I want her to try and figure it out first. If she knows we're waiting for call she may not ever learn for herself.

    I love these tips you shared here. My daughter will definitely be reading this. I think if she hears it (or reads it) from someone else's point of view she won't think it's just me being mom. ;)

    Great post Tanya! Passing this on to help other college Freshmen! Hope all is well!

    • Sunday, August 16th, 2015
      How exciting for you, Cori! Best wishes to your daughter! You know, not everyone is ready for a credit card and it's great that your daughter realizes it. If it's too much temptation to overspend, than starting with prepaid cards is a great way to start. I'm glad you are having such open discussions with her because so many parents and kids don't talk about money. I think some parents fear it more than the "sex talk"!
  6. Friday, August 14th, 2015
    Yup, getting a job was a must when I was in college. My parents paid for my tuition (it was the 90's and Cal State wasn't the crazy-priced catastrophe that it is now), but I had to pay for everything else like books, car payment, etc... But unfortunately no one taught me how to properly use a credit card. That totally sucked. They should teach financial literacy in high school, seriously :(
    • Sunday, August 16th, 2015
      I had a job in college too and I don't know how I would have survived otherwise. And it wasn't a glamorous job either, it was in fast food! LOL! But thanks to it, scholarships and my parents, I also graduated debt-free. :) I wish financial literacy was taught in school too. It seems so weird that it's not, given that everyone manages money.
  7. Saturday, August 15th, 2015
    I love the tips. I agree that college students should take less student loan and should consider getting side hustles. I know lots of students who have lower student loan because they worked part time during college. They are satisfied that they did so they have less loan amount to pay after graduation.
    • Sunday, August 16th, 2015
      Thanks, Jayson! A job can really help minimize your reliance on student loans and give you the extra money to also do some of those fun things you want to do too! It may not seem like a huge thing now, but once you start paying back those loans after graduation, it will make a huge difference.
  8. Monday, August 17th, 2015
    My favorite tip is to use as little student loan money as possible (not surprising given my debt). This tip alone can be life changing for a student's future.
  9. Tuesday, August 18th, 2015
    I believe I am going to face trouble between study and part time job. But, hey! I am gonna be debt free after graduating.
  • Meet Shannon

    "As a Certified Financial Planner, it is my passion to help individuals and families build a healthy relationship with money. I look forward to helping you raise financially confident kids.” - Shannon Ryan