Making ‘cents of college

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Your first year in college is an exciting time, filled with promises of brain-expanding lectures, endless possibilities and (for some) light intoxication. Becoming a freshman is also a major transition into the beginning of real adult responsibility and financial burden.

It’s no secret that college is expensive, and is becoming increasingly so each year. The average student graduates with $22,000 in debt.

With all the stress of the exams, ex-sweethearts and exhibitionist shindigs that accompany college life, the last thing you want to worry about is your bank account. Here are some helpful hints and not-so-secret school services that can save you from falling into a world of monetary agony.

HigherOne Card

Let’s start with your shiny new student identification, the HigherOne card. Is it a bank card? Is it a license to kill? Here’s the deal.

If you’re new to grown-up things, don’t be dazzled by the MasterCard logo. It isn’t full of free money. Your new ID doubles as a debit card, which has the option of being linked to its own bank account. You would use this account to draw from the financial aid left over after tuition takes its slice of the pie.

This provides a simple and effortless avenue through which to access your funds, but beware of fine-print fees. You lose 50 cents with every debit transaction, and those quarters can add up fast. Opening your own bank account may end up saving you some much-needed money.

Create a Budget

Aspirin is great for taking care of headaches, and so are budgets. Before you pack up your lunch pail, take a minute to draft a realistic estimation of your expenses. Earmark some bills for books, tuition and necessities, and a make an allowance for frivolity.

Now print your forecast on neon-green paper framed with images of robots fist-fighting mermaids, make a thousand copies and paste it all over your walls. It’s stylish, annoying and impossible to ignore.
“Don’t confuse your needs with your wants,” advised Heather Mattioli, the assistant director of PSU’s Office of Financial Aid. In other words, if it’s shiny, don’t buy it.

Use Your Tech

These days, we’re surrounded by smartphones. They’re great for playing Tetris, ending arguments before they begin and also calling people sometimes. While you’re out exploring the city between classes, don’t forget to keep an eye on your bank account.

Nearly every bank offers free account-management applications for your phone. You can keep track of purchases, make deposits and even use handy budgeting tools. Avoiding costly overage fees is as simple as stalking a Facebook friend.

Your phone’s calendar is also the perfect tool for paying your bills (more on this later).
Make small, consistent efforts toward keeping track of your finances—much like washing dishes or brushing your teeth—and you can avoid a huge, horrifying mess.

Work Part-Time

Whether you’re sweeping up at a movie theater or slinging tacos from a food cart, investing 10–15 hours per week in a part-time job is a good idea.

Receiving a little more income per month can never hurt (assuming you have the time to spare), and will aid in the age-old spending-more-than-you-have battle.

There isn’t a parent alive who doesn’t appreciate financial assistance, especially from a newly grown-up child. The more you can ease the burden on your family (or the government) through financial independence, the better.

When your college experience is over, you will look back with pride (and possibly less debt) at having earned your education by waxing the toes of the elderly on the weekends.

Seriously, finding a part-time job close to campus that will not only provide you an income but also experience in a future career is ideal.

Credit Cards

These pieces of plastic can be a blessing in an emergency—or leave you running from baseball-bat-wielding collectors for the rest of your life.

Mattioli warned that “[freshmen] may be inexperienced with evaluating the card’s rates and responsibilities.” Consider applying for one low-APR credit card with no annual fee, but do your research and be cautious.

Learn how to make steady payments every month, on time, as with all of your bills. Using your phone’s calendar for simple reminders will keep the stress of forgetting at bay.

This can slowly build up good credit through your college career (helping with big purchases such as cars and homes later on), and give you a little safety net in the case of a financial emergency. That includes plane tickets home and “my-roommate-threw-my-laptop-in-the-fish-tank” fees (not taking your whole class to the opening night of Iron Man 7).

Student Perks in Portland

Our city is full of discounted (and even free) things for PSU students to do. Do a little research before heading out with expectations of excitement; you may be missing something that will keep your wallet happy.

There are student discounts for movies, restaurants and shops everywhere. Just ask! The Portland Art Museum even offers a membership for students.

Instead of taking a cab to the mall, hop on the streetcar. It’s free with your student ID. And for those with a taste for culture, Portland Center Stage offers sharply reduced ticket prices to students of Portland State.

So go see Sweeney Todd and bring your poncho. The first three rows are the splash zone.
Grants, Scholarships and Loans (oh, my!) Bottom line, borrow as little as possible. Federal subsidized loans are your best bet since they pay the fixed interest while you are in school.

Your first choice should always be grants and scholarships. Treat it like a job—you can apply under categories as varied as race, gender, age, major and even eye color.

“It’s important to start the search early,” Mattioli said. “Line up your letters of recommendation sooner [rather] than later, and make sure you edit your essays.”

Avoid giving in to private lenders if at all possible. Free money is the best money.

Short-term Loans / PSU Financial Services

PSU is full of help, whether you think you need it or not. Stop by the financial aid department and have your questions answered.

The School of Business Administration offers great assistance on things such as car loans, saving for retirement and financial literacy.

Your last line of defense against poverty is taking advantage of PSU’s emergency short-term loans. If you find yourself stuck, your buddies at the university will help you by lending anywhere from $50–600 (with a small service charge).

Thus, armed with all of this fantastic, not-so-secret knowledge, go out and learn things. Acquire a super-human brain and put your best foot forward into financial responsibility. Laugh, live and make mistakes—just not financial ones.

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