Skip to Content
August 25, 2020

Top 10 College Student Money Mess-Ups

Top 10 College Student Money Mess-Ups

Photo by Stanley Morales from Pexels

Chances are, as a young adult, you haven’t had a lot of experience with managing money. While that’s understandable, it can be problematic. Unfortunately, college students have a track record of making some common money mess-ups. 


Don’t worry, though. We’ll identify those mishaps and show you what to do instead. That way, you can graduate in the best possible financial position.


Money Mess-up #1: Failing to File Your FAFSA

If you don’t file the FAFSA, you could miss out on helpful student aid, such as grants or work studies. Since college is so expensive, you need to get every dollar you can that doesn’t have to be repaid. Without these resources, you may pay a lot more for your education.


What to Do Instead:

File the FAFSA on time every year. To increase your chances of receiving grant money, file as early as possible. Each state and school can impose their own deadlines for filing, but the federal cut off is June 30th each year.


Money Mess-Up #2: Not Seeking Ways to Save on Tuition

Like most things in life, attending college can either be somewhat affordable or incredibly expensive. When you don’t actively look for ways to save money, you set yourself up for a bigger tuition bill. Those extra expenses each semester could add up to a daunting final figure upon graduation.


What to Do Instead:

Research ways to reduce the cost of attending college. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Apply for scholarships. 
  • Attend a community college to take care of your prerequisites on the cheap.
  • Go to a budget-friendly 4-year school. 
  • Live off-campus - at home or with friends. 


There are lots of other ways to save, too. Go with what works best for you.


Quatromoney Manage Your Funding Gap for College Costs


Money Mess-Up #3: Borrowing Too Much

Sometimes, your school might be willing to loan you more than you need to pay for the semester. While it may be tempting to have extra cash on hand, accepting that money means that you’ll have to pay more back later. The additional burden can really put a damper on your post-graduation budget.


What to Do Instead:

Only borrow what you need to cover your true expenses. Remit any excess funds to the loan servicer as soon as possible. It might be a little painful to say no to the spare cash. But, saying yes would hurt even more when it’s time to repay your loans.


Money Mess-Up #4: Not Staying on Top of Your Academics

Your degree program will require you to take classes in a certain order. And, some of those courses may not be offered every semester. If you don’t keep track of what classes you need to take when, or you fail a course, you may push out your graduation date. That means you’ll have to pay more in tuition.


What to Do Instead:

Meet with your advisor regularly to go over your academic plan and progress. Make your classes your top priority. Of course, you’re human, and a course or two may cause you to stumble. So, be familiar with your school’s withdrawal deadline so you can leave the class in time to receive a refund.


Money Mess-Up #5: Not Having a Budget

If you don’t have some sort of a budget, you’ll probably overspend. That could leave you scrambling for cash at the most inopportune time. Or, you may wind up whipping out your credit card to bridge the gap (more on that in a minute!).


What to Do Instead:

Create a budget. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It just needs to account for the money you receive and the expenses that you need to cover each month. Any leftover cash can be used for fun things or to build up some savings.


Money Mess-Up #6: Not Managing Credit Cards Responsibly

It’s really easy to bust out that credit card and pay for whatever you need or want. But, swiping too often (or for too much) can cause you to rack up some serious debt. Credit card debt usually comes with a high interest rate. That means that your weekly brunch habit or annual spring break trip could take years to pay off!


What to Do Instead:

Only use your credit card for purchases you know you can pay off each month. Doing so is a great way to build good credit. And, you won’t take on any debt. Be sure to make your payments on time -- whether you can pay the full balance or not. Missed payments will ruin your credit score.


Understand Financial Aid Terms with Quatromoney Financial Aid Glossary


Money Mess-Up #7: Not Having an Emergency Fund

Life happens. Your computer might break two days before a big paper is due. Or, you may need to get home in a hurry. If you don’t have any cash on hand, it will be tougher to respond effectively to these situations. You may find yourself turning to credit cards. Or worse yet -- unable to take care of your problem.


What to Do Instead: 

Save up a nest egg to use as an emergency fund. It’s OK to start with a small amount and build up the account over time. Just don’t touch the money unless you absolutely have to. While it may be tempting to splurge with the extra cash now, you’ll be glad you have it when a true emergency strikes.


Money Mess-Up #8: Giving in to FOMO

No one likes to feel left out. But, if you spend money in an attempt to keep up with your peers, you’re going to go broke quickly. Don’t put yourself in the poorhouse due to FOMO.


What to Do Instead:

Factor fun, meaningful purchases and experiences into your budget. You’re supposed to have a good time in college. But, when your splurge money is spent, bow out. You’ll have to catch the next event. And trust us, there’s always a next event.


Money Mess-Up #9: Not Fully Utilizing Campus Resources or Student Discounts

If you’re unfamiliar with all of your campus resources, you could be leaving money on the table. And, making any purchase without checking for a student discount could be a costly mistake. Both of these errors pull the cash right out of your pocket!


What to Do Instead:

Check with your school to see what amenities you have access to. You may be able to cancel your off-campus gym membership. Or, you might want to eat on campus more due to a robust meal plan. Want to learn more about student discounts? Check out this article.


Money Mess-Up #10: Not Earning Any Money

Not having an income can make it hard to cover your expenses or enjoy yourself. You’ll have to rely on your savings, the bank of Mom and Dad, your credit cards, or extra student loan funds. (Remember, those last two are very bad deals!)


What to Do Instead:

While your studies are your top priority, it’s a good idea to have a job. You could look at on-campus work studies or very part-time roles during the school year. During the summer, you might be able to get a full-time, seasonal job. Either way, you’ll bolster your bank account and learn valuable skills that will serve you well post-graduation.


Final Thoughts

College students have the notorious reputation of being bad with money. But -- you don’t need to fit that stereotype. By dodging the mess-ups above and implementing some of the alternatives, you’ll be well on your way to graduating in a good financial place.

Photograph of Laura Gariepy
Laura Gariepy

Laura Gariepy is a freelance writer that specializes in personal finance, careers, and small business.  She owns Every Day by the Lake, a written content creation company that helps busy business owners connect with their target audience.  You can follow her on Twitter @EverydayLake.

Recent Posts






© 2020 Pay4Education, Inc