College is expensive. Even with a generous financial aid package, whether you attend a two- or four-year school, you’ll still have some expenses. With student loan debt at an all-time high, it’s in your best interest to start saving as soon as you can.
Right now college probably seems like a long way off, but high school is four of the fastest years of your life. It’s never too soon to start thinking about saving up for one of the most important investments you’ll ever make—your post–high school education.
Below are a few tips for making money and managing your finances before you even graduate from high school.
How to make extra money in high school
One of the easiest ways to make some extra cash is to find a part-time job. From fast food restaurants to paper routes to mowing lawns, there are countless opportunities available for high school students. Most employers want reliable, responsible employees who will show up on time and be ready to work—your supervisor can teach you the actual job-related skills you’ll need. Having a job is a big responsibility.
If you decide to work, good time management is essential. Many bosses are understanding about their high school employees’ other commitments like athletics or after-school clubs, but don’t take it for granted. If you can’t work a regular schedule, consider odd jobs or something with more flexibility, such as babysitting, mowing lawns, running errands for elderly neighbors, or helping a business owner during their busy season.
Earning an allowance
Most kids are expected to do chores around the house. This has its own benefits—it eases some of your parents’ burden and helps you learn valuable life skills. You probably liked helping your parents when you were little just for the fun of it. But as you enter middle and high school, it may be time to ask your parents if they’d be willing to pay you for those chores in something besides compliments.
Make a list of tasks you’re willing to do and how often you’ll do them, talk to your parents, agree to a certain amount for your weekly allowance, and stick to that commitment. You or your parents can always change the arrangement if it’s not working out.
Holidays and special occasions like birthdays or excellent report cards often come with monetary gifts from proud parents, grandparents, and extended family. Even if the giver encourages you to “buy yourself something,” think twice before splurging. That gift could be an extra $20 or $50 in your savings account to put in your college fund or use in case of a real emergency.
Search your closet or other storage areas in your house and you’ll probably find dozens of items you don’t use or want anymore. Rather than have them take up valuable space, why not try to sell them to make some extra money? There are several online sale sites (clear it with your parents first, of course), or talk to your parents about having an old-fashioned yard sale to get rid of the things you no longer need.
Look through your car seats, couch cushions, pants pockets, and other random drop sites around your house and gather all the loose change you find. Those coins can add up to some very nice cash. Take your stash to your nearest Coinstar machine or your bank to deposit it directly into your savings account.
Tips for saving it
Once you have some cash flow, you need a plan to manage it. This is not as easy as it sounds at times. It’s tempting to start spending as soon as the money is in your hand, but if you’re trying to save money for college, this is the perfect time to develop good money management skills (and maybe a little self-control if you’re a shopaholic!).
Budgeting is one of the best ways to keep your spending in check, especially if you have limited funds. There are countless apps that allow you to track your spending. Make a list of your expenses and how much you spend on each item every month. Seeing it all right in front of you can be very helpful. You can monitor your spending and see where you can reduce costs or cut items out completely.
For instance, car insurance is a must-have expense. If your current coverage is expensive, ask your parents to help you shop for a more affordable policy. If you like that fancy but pricey coffee in the morning before school, try giving it up for a few weeks and see if you notice a difference in your bank account.
Related: 8 Ways to Save Better as a Student
If you’re thinking about opening a checking or savings account, keep in mind most banks require anyone under 18 to have a parent or guardian as a cosigner on the account. (This makes two parties responsible for bounced checks or other issues.) For serious savers, talk to your parents about starting a 529 savings plan, in which a certain amount is deposited into the account each month and is used specifically for higher education expenses. Many parents open a 529 account when their children are babies or in elementary school, but you can open one at any time.
Other ways to save money
As your senior year of high school approaches, it’s more important than ever to watch your spending and save as much as you can. Ninety percent of college students receive some type of financial aid—grants, loans, scholarships, or some combination of the three. Remember that any loan you borrow must be paid back. Grants are notoriously difficult to receive, and scholarships can vary anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.
Although scholarship money doesn’t have to be paid back, you may need to maintain a certain GPA to keep the award. There are scholarships for all kinds of things, so don’t assume you won’t receive money because you’re not at the top of your class. Do some research and you’ll be surprised at the variety of scholarships available.
Don’t wait too long to get serious about paying for college. The fall of your senior year will be a few of the busiest months of your 13 years of school, so don’t put off researching scholarship opportunities, applying to schools, or building up your financial cushion until the last minute. Even if you’re “only” a freshman or sophomore, it’s never too early to start thinking about your future.
Start your college fund now by searching for scholarships on CollegeXpress.