First Year Finances

Be Smart Now, Pay Less Later

Welcome to Winthrop! We want your first year financial experience to be a positive one. Here are some important things to remember when it comes to managing your money as you settle into life as a college student.

After your tuition, room and board, fees, etc. are all paid, you’re likely to have some income left over. This might come from the Hope Scholarship, Life Scholarship, a work study program, an off-campus job, or maybe your parents. Once you have these discretionary funds in your possession, you need to be smart about how you’re going to allocate them throughout the semester.

Remember, budgeting is a subjective process that will vary from one person to the next. From cell phones to getting your hair done, a “necessity” to one person might be something another person is willing to forgo. Every dollar has a job, and you determine what that job is.

By focusing on your income and expenses at this early stage in your life, you’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of smart, savvy financial decision making. Lastly, credit cards can be an extremely useful tool, but they can also establish dangerous and destructive habits. Until you’re ready to commit to understanding all the ins and outs of responsibly managing credit, these are best left for a future project.

Financial Aid

Your total financial aid package could likely involve several different components. Understanding the differences between each of these pieces is very important. Your first step is always to speak directly with the Office of Financial Aid (323-2189), where advisors are always there to answer your questions and help you understand the entire process.

Scholarships, such as the Hope, Life, or Winthrop-specific scholarships provide financial assistance that does not typically need to be repaid.

Student loans, whether from the US government or a private company, provide financial assistance that will need to be repaid once you graduate or complete your studies.  Borrowing today to fund your education might be a necessity, but it is important for you to be aware that this type of financial aid will eventually need to be paid back.  So, there are some important questions to ask youself; here are just a few:

  • How much money do I really need? (A common trap for all of us. Think about what you need to succeed in college - avoid the unnecesary costs.)
  • What are my plans to pay it back?
  • Will the type of career I want to pursue enable me to pay this loan back in a timely fashion?

First-Year Budgeting

As a first-year college student, you may be tempted to think that budgeting is something you'll do later when you have a job. But, your Money Matters NOW! Maintaining a good budget now will make sure you're not harming your budget later. Decisions today will impact you four years from now in the form of the amount of debt you have an even your credit rating. Wrapping your head around your regular income and expenses is one of the most responsible things you can ever do - for today and tomorrow.

While it is certainly tempting to take that initial surge of money you receive from your financial aid package, your parents, or your paycheck and spend freely, try to do the following:

  • Take a few minutes to map out your daily and weekly expenses.
  • Ask yourself, "How much money do I have over this period"?
  • Plan your spending accordingly.
  • Give yourself a buffer! (Something's bound to turn-up. You might get sick and be unable to work or you may want to go to the movies more than you thought).

With your first-year budgeting, just like with your academics, if you have a plan, you're more likely to meet your goal. The simple task of budgeting will not only begin building healthy financial habits that will last the rest of your life, but it will also prevent you from running out of money midway through the semester. Avoid that stress simply by creating a first-year budget.

Understanding Credit

As a young person, it is important that you begin building a strong credit history soon. You've probably heard someone say, "my credit score is [x]". What they are referrring to is their credit ranking. You need to be thinking about that too. Down the road, when you want to buy a house or new car, a bank will want want to see proof that you can handle making your monthly payments on a consistent basis. If you've been able to show this in the past, than your credit ranking goes up. As you can imagine, that's pretty important so that you can spend a lot less money on that new house or car.

While credit can be a useful tool, it can also be a destructive habit. As your college experience gets underway, be careful not to shoot yourself in the foot with bad credit decisions. You probably don't need that credit card right now, and a new car may not be the best choice either. Avoid those decisions until you've had an opportunity to fully explore all the consequences of your decisions. Seek out the counsel of your parents, your professors, or anyone else who has shown an ability to manage their finances responsibly before considering these important decisions.