As students (and their parents) start to focus on Thanksgiving break, taking a look at one's financial situation usually isn't at the top of the to-do list. Unfortunately, however, the last few weeks of the fall semester can wreak havoc on a student's financial life if everyone isn't prepared.
Sure, you're busy trying to finish all your projects before you leave for Thanksgiving break—and those definitely take a priority right now! But once you finish up your major academic projects, make sure to add "check bank account balance" to your dwindling to-do list.
It's important to check your balance and know where you stand, financially, before the break for a number of reasons. First and foremost, if you aren't going to have enough money to last the rest of the semester, a serious talk with your folks while you're home is in order.
[Before heading home, see some holiday travel tips for students.]
Second, knowing how much money you have left can help you better plan your spending (or lack thereof!) while you're home with friends and family. And finally, being aware of your financial situation is important because it has an impact on all kinds of daily choices—like whether or not to make a sandwich in the school cafeteria before you leave to catch your flight instead of paying $11 for one in the airport.
If you're doing well with your bank account balance, pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Money management is a difficult skill to learn and you should be commended!
If, however, you're like most college students and your account is, shall we say, lower than you'd like, there are a few smart steps to take. Talk to your parents or other family members while you're home about what to do. Ask them for tips on how to save money during the few weeks you have left at school. Spend a day applying for seasonal jobs so you can earn some extra money for next semester (and the holidays).
Spend some time at a discount warehouse and stock up on nonperishable food supplies, such as cereal and granola bars, that you can eat when you're back on campus—especially if your meal plan is low or most of your budget goes to food. Draw up a budget of what expenses you know you're going to have between now and the end of the semester, making sure you know how much you can spend each week while still having enough for any end-of-the-semester expenses (like fees for lost lab equipment, etc.).
Last but not least: Asking your parents (or someone else) for money doesn't have to be an awkward and shameful experience. Might it be? Of course. Does it have to be? Hopefully not. Remember that you're in college to learn, and some of life's best lessons come from learning from mistakes. Did you spend way too much at the beginning of the semester? Be honest with your parents about that and present how you're going to be much better over the next few weeks now that you've seen the consequences of frivolous spending.
[Learn some painless ways to save money.]
Keep in mind, however, that your parents may not be able—or simply may not want —to bail you out. With the economy the way it is and the holiday season approaching, they may not have any extra cash on hand. Your folks may also think that your lack of funds until finals week is over is your problem, not theirs.
Remember to keep the focus on finding a solution to your financial situation; instead of getting mad at your parents, spend your energy finding a different resolution. Can you take an on-campus job for a few weeks? Help out with some special events? Find a short-term gig nearby, like tutoring at a school? Can you offer some services on campus, such as tutoring or web design, for a small fee? Are there seasonal jobs available on or near campus that you can snag? Or can you just really tighten your belt buckle and do your best to make it through the next few weeks, realizing that the best gift you can give yourself this holiday season is one of financial responsibility?
[Ask these questions about college finances.]
Do you have tips on how to make it through the last few weeks of college with limited funds? Or are you an expert on managing your money in school? Make sure to share your tips and tricks with other readers in the comments!