Once you have received your award letter from a college and uploaded it into DecidED, you will be able to see your remaining balance to cover costs. In this section we will go over how you can directly contribute money to help cover portions of your college bill and/or life budget. These funds can come from any savings you may already have as well as money you plan to save from a summer job before you start college.
Tap into any savings you may have
If you have set aside money from previous summer jobs, or are currently working and have been putting away money, take stock of how much you have saved up from:
- Money you have put away from jobs over the years.
- Money saved for you in a 529 Savings Plan or other savings plan (if your family has set this up). Learn more about 529 plans from NerdWallet.
Tip: We recommend saving at least $500 for an emergency fund that you can rely on during college for any unexpected expenses that come up. Remember to refill this fund with earnings from work-study/part-time work over time.
If you don’t already have a savings account, start one now
It’s never too late to start building a savings account before you start college.
Open a checking or savings account at a bank to manage your money. Having a bank account has many benefits.
- Bank accounts are secure.
- If you keep cash at home or in your dorm room, you run the risk of it being stolen or damaged.
- Banks, on the other hand, insure your money (up to $250,000) so that your savings will always be there.
- Having a bank account will help you keep track of your finances.
- You can receive monthly updates on your income and spending, or just log into your bank online and check your balance whenever you want.
- You can also set up alerts to let you know when your account balance is below a comfortable limit.
- Direct deposit.
- If you are working, you can have your paychecks deposited directly into your bank account by using direct deposit.
- This will save you time that you would otherwise spend finding a place to cash your check and,
- Will also save you the fee that goes with cashing a check when you’re not a bank member.
- Get cash when you need it.
- A checking account also comes with a debit card, which will let you withdraw funds from your account via an ATM machine.
- This lets you access your cash easily.
Every student is different, so we can’t recommend one bank account that matches everyone perfectly. However, you can explore your options using sites like NerdWallet and Wallethacks, which compare the best bank accounts for college students.
Tip: Many students find that bank accounts make managing money during college a lot easier, but it’s important to find bank accounts that are student-friendly.
Start contributing to your savings from part-time and summer work
Now that you’ve got your checking and savings accounts set up, you can start contributing to your account a little bit at a time. If you have a part-time job, save a portion of every paycheck.
- If you are not currently working, consider looking for part-time work, or plan to apply and work full-time during the summer to save money for the upcoming school year.
- Try to save as much of the money you are earning once you’ve accounted for necessary expenses (food, housing, etc). Start with an easy goal, like saving $25 per month.
- Don’t worry about saving every cent of your future tuition costs. It’s more important to get started and save a regular amount that is reasonable for your overall budget.
Remember that you will be looking to cover your college bill and living expenses from multiple sources; your own money is just one of them. You can also get money from:
- Grants and scholarships
- Financial Support from family (if they are able)
- Earnings from work-study/part-time job
- Federal student loans
Your savings, however small, could end up being the final source of money to cover your college bill. Better yet, the money you use for your life budget can cover college costs like books, supplies and personal expenses. If you are fortunate enough to have most or all of your college costs covered, plan ahead and put away as much money as you can for future years. It’s always better to be prepared for unexpected expenses by having a healthy amount in your savings.
Tip: If you are in a position to contribute to saving more than the $500 we’d recommend for an emergency fund, even better! See if you can double or triple your goal over time, as this will set you up for the coming years ahead.