DePaul University Career Center's Blog

5 Steps to Financial Success in Your First Year of College

By: Samantha Mallett, Peer Financial Advisor

Your first year at DePaul can feel overwhelming. You’re in a big city and trying to balance classes, work, a social life, etc. with no formal guidebook. Everything seems to be moving quickly and before you know it, the money that you worked so hard to save over the summer is almost gone. But don’t worry! Follow these tips to learn how you can better manage your money and live your best life to get the optimal freshman experience!

1. Prioritize 

We love that you want to treat yo’ self, but don’t forget your essentials in the process. For instance, if you’re looking into joining an on-campus organization that has quarterly dues of $20, you may have to skip out on a few trips to Starbucks. I know, it’s hard to say no to a Frappuccino, but your wallet will thank you later on. Make a list of your needs versus your wants and use that list to prioritize what you should spend your money on first. If you struggle with categorizing some of your needs versus wants, ask questions like: “Will I use this product/service within the next week?” “Will purchasing this item put me in a financial hole?” “Can this product/service wait to be purchased at a later date?” Once you’re finished prioritizing and purchasing your necessities, you may be able to purchase things listed on your “wants” list.

2. Learn to say “no”

This rule coincides with prioritizing. Throughout your first year in college, you may be invited to different events, some of which may require money. The desire to make new friends can create pressure to attend but remember your priorities. The lesson here isn’t to literally shout “NO!” at anyone that wants to spend time with you, but to be mindful that it’s okay to decline a few invites if they are outside of your means. Consider suggesting a money-saving alternative like an on-campus event. They are oftentimes free and include free food!

To easily manage your expenses, use apps like Mint and Albert. They give you advice on ways that you can cut back your spending and set up an emergency savings account through their service.

3. Apply for an on-campus job

If you’re trying to live your best life, but are also strapped for cash, consider applying for an on-campus job. On-campus jobs are great opportunities for students looking to make some extra money while gaining career-relevant skills. On-campus employers are willing to be considerate of your class schedule and will likely be in a convenient location for you. Having additional income can feel elating, but remember to continue to prioritize!

4. Have your cake and frost it, too

When you think about treating yourself, think of it as the icing on the cake. Before you can frost your cake, you have to stack all of the tiers of your cake together. In this case, think of your tiers as things like your student organization’s dues, groceries, tuition payments, or any other mandatory expense you have for that month. Once all of those expenses are paid off, then you can consider frosting your cake by going shopping, eating at a restaurant, etc.

Before you indulge in your hypothetical cake, think about how big of a slice you want right now. Think of your income as the entire cake; the more slices you take from it, the less you have to spend or place in your savings. If you’re employed, you can have a set amount of your earnings, or cake slices, go directly into your savings account whenever your direct deposit hits.

5. Ask for Help

One of the many great things about attending DePaul is the abundance of resources. Schedule an appointment with the Financial Fitness team to get advice on how to better manage your finances. Do you want to save money on purchasing books for your courses? The Office of Multicultural Student Success (OMSS) offers a FREE Book Loan Program for students that may have the books needed for your first-year courses.


We hope these five tips get you started on finding financial success in your first year. See you out there, DePaul!

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