Heading off to college? It's a great place to learn some basic financial skills along with literature, science, and math. This transitional time gives you the freedom to make purchases on your own while enjoying some provided necessities and, if you're lucky, a safety net.
But realize that, if you get off on the wrong foot, you'll ruin the very credit score that you'll need after college graduation to launch you into the world of job-hunting, renting, and home buying (as described in Nolo's article, Credit Scoring.) So take this time to learn how to live within your means -- it'll keep you out of financial trouble and build sound skills that will help you for the rest of your life.
Here is a partial list of expenses you can expect during college:
Ask your parents to be very clear about what they'll pay for and what they won't. Discuss what to do in a financial emergency -- some parents give their kids a credit card to be used in emergencies only.
Decide how much money you'll need. Some of the costs (computer, printer, furniture) are one-time outlays; separate these from ongoing costs. Allocate a certain amount of money for each category every month.
What are your sources of income? Will you receive any financial aid, scholarship money, or loans? How much money will your parents give you, and what will you have to earn on your own? This will help you determine whether you need a part-time job and how much money you need to make at that job.
If you already have a checking account, make sure your bank has a branch in your college town, and give them your new address. If not, open a new account near your college, and get checks and a debit/ATM card.
You may want to avoid getting a credit card, because it's easy to rack up debt. If you do get a credit card, get one with a low spending limit, use it only for items you know you can afford, and be very careful to pay the bills on time, and, better yet, in full. Late payments can wreak havoc on your credit score.
With just these few simple precautions, you can get your finances in good working order -- which will relieve stress and give you more time to concentrate on the truly important stuff, like learning and having fun. For more information on budgeting, see Nolo's article Budgeting: How to Make Budget.
If you do get into financial trouble, or just want to educate yourself so you don't run into problems, get Solve Your Money Troubles: Debt, Credit & Bankruptcy, by Robin Leonard and Margaret Reiter (Nolo).