Back to School Budgeting Tips from A-Z

First-day-of-school jitters. Reviewing each class’s syllabus. Meeting teachers who may become life-long mentors. Back-to-school season is officially here! This exciting time can also come with quite a few expenses, so we’ve gathered the ABCs of back-to-school saving to help keep your finances in check. 

Add up your semester expenses 

Whether this is your first year of college or your last, each semester’s expenses can be unique based on the amount of units you’re enrolled in, the type of courses, the teachers and the activities you're involved in. Reviewing your expenses for the semester will help you create a budget and adapt healthy spending habits. Expenses to consider include tuition and student fees, school supplies, housing, food, gas and transportation, technology and entertainment money. 

Be sure to calculate your net income 

The other key factor in creating your budget is, of course, calculating your income. If your parents are helping you with college expenses, have a conversation about which ones and if there are any contingencies – for example, maintaining a certain GPA or remaining a full-time student. This will help ensure those expenses are taken care of and help you create a goal for how many hours you need to work to meet your financial goals. You’ll also want to assess any scholarships or grants you’ve received, which we’ll discuss below! 

Consider building your credit 

A question we’re often asked is how to build credit if you have no or minimal credit history. While there are a few options for building your credit, one of the best for students is opening a student credit card. Perfect for those looking to establish and build credit history, our Smart Card is a simple, no-frills credit card that offers no annual fee, low rates and the opportunity to transfer existing balances. 

If you already have credit cards or existing credit, our Platinum Cash Rewards and Platinum Rewards cards are great options to consider as they offer cash back or rewards on merchandise, travel and fuel. 

Double check what you’re spending your money on 

It’s easy to let subscriptions slip through the cracks. What may seem like a minimal expense can add up slowly over time, especially if you have multiple of them. Checking your monthly account statements will help ensure you’re not unnecessarily paying for things you’re not actually using and, in certain circumstances, help prevent incorrect charges or even fraud. 

Explore back-to-school sales 

After you’ve determined which school supplies you need, be sure to check if any of those items are on sale. It’s common for stores to discount items in anticipation of the back-to-school rush, so create your list and scope out who’s offering the best prices or packages. While your campus bookstore may be convenient, it may not always have the most competitive deals. Here’s a list of back-to-school sales that may be helpful.

Find a job that works with your schedule 

There are various avenues when it comes to finding a job during college. You can look for a paid internship in your field of interest or pursue something part-time that can help with extra spending flexibility while providing less of a time commitment. Your college’s Career Center, job boards and job fairs are great places to start your search. If you’re attending Cal State Long Beach, you can also look into the Associated Students Inc. careers portal and see what opportunities they have available. 

Get around town with discounts on public transit 

The hassle many commuters find, in addition to traffic, includes finding a parking spot and paying for parking passes. Long Beach Transit (LBT), LA Metro and Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) all offer transportation discounts to make traveling easy and affordable for students. LBT offers a special CSULB Go Beach! Pass with unlimited rides for students and faculty with fees ranging from $40 for a 30-day pass or $100 for a 150-day semester pass. 

Hunt for textbook deals 

Textbooks are a costly necessity, but there are deals when it comes to acquiring them! Book rentals are available at up to 80% off purchase price at CSULB’s University Bookstore and outside sources, such as Chegg or eCampus Rentals. You can also use to compare prices across 40 different sites. 

Another option is to check out a textbook to use for a few hours in your school’s library. Many instructors place reserve collections, which include books, book chapters or media, on hold in the library or online for CSULB student use at no cost. 

Investigate options for financial aid and scholarships 

In addition to submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (or FAFSA) by the end of June each year, The Financial Aid Scholarships Office at CSULB has all the information needed on how to apply and obtain scholarships. We’ve also compiled a list of funding options for students on our Financial Aid page

Join clubs and activities at school

Not only does joining clubs on campus help you socialize in ways that don’t require you to spend money, it can also open the door to a variety of available resources. CSULB currently has 473 organizations to cater to a variety of hobbies, interests and majors. 

Keep a list of available campus amenities

Catering to students’ needs, universities are built to include everything students may need in one convenient location. Knowing what’s available at your university can save you both travel time and money. 

CSULB even has a hair and nail salon called Elektric Hair! From outside looks to how you’re feeling, CSULB tuition includes free doctor’s visits at Student Health Services and a variety of wholesome programs and tools, such as yoga and body positivity programs, at the Health Resource Center. 

For technology-related resources, such as computer labs and printing stations, CSULB students can head to The Horn Center or the first floor of the University Library. 

Look for deals at local restaurants and businesses 

Outside of the CSULB campus, many local restaurants and businesses offer discounts and deals to students. The CSULB Student Resource Guide is your key to student deals ranging from breakfast at the Fantastic Cafe to skincare products at Ambiance Skincare. 

Make a weekly food budget and stick to it 

Another costly expense? Morning Starbucks runs and dining out frequently. Creating a weekly grocery list and packing lunch the night before school can help discourage the temptation to go out to eat and reserve those funds as a treat with friends. If you have a campus meal plan, be sure to utilize that, as well. 

Never pay full-price for tickets 

Whether it’s a day at Disneyland or the San Diego Zoo, The Information & Ticket Center offers discounts on tickets so you never have to pay full price! 

Open a free student checking account 

Some banks require you to maintain a certain account balance or meet deposit requirements in order to avoid monthly maintenance fees. To avoid these, look for student checking accounts instead! Southland offers Free Checking with a $0 minimum opening deposit and no monthly service fees to make your future easy. 

Practice mindful spending: implement the 72-hour rule 

We’ve talked about necessities, such as tuition, textbooks and food, now it’s time to talk about incorporating spending for things that qualify as wants. One method to limit this type of spending and ensure you’re happy with your purchase is to incorporate the 72-hour rule: wait three days before purchasing something you like instead of buying it on a whim. 

Question yourself before making a big purchase

Making a big purchase, like a laptop, is a commitment and investment. Preparing a set of questions you ask yourself before committing helps ensure that you’re satisfied with the purchase and have received a great deal. Questions to consider include: Do I need this item now? Have I done my research on it? Are there any upcoming sales?

Remember to set aside money for fun without feeling guilty 

Your budget should include money for fun and entertainment! When reviewing your monthly expenses, check to see how much you’ve spent for the “fun stuff.” 

Set up a meeting with a college counselor for student loans

Sometimes student loans are unavoidable. Meeting with a college counselor either at your university or credit union can alleviate stress by answering any and all questions up front to ensure you’re taken care of. 

Take your student ID with you 

Your student ID card can offer a variety of discounts, like reduced rates of insurance. You never know if a place offers a discount until you ask or research it, so keeping your ID on you serves as a great reminder. 

Use your student email for discounts 

Like your ID card, your student email serves as a rate reducer on a variety of streaming services, including Amazon Prime, Hulu, Spotify and more. 

Visit free things in the area 

Living in LA County or Orange County provides endless opportunities to get out and explore. Spending a day at the beach or going on a nearby hike is entertaining and free! Here are a few options for Free Activities in Long Beach.  

Workout at the school gym for free 

The Student Recreation and Wellness Center at CSULB features workout equipment, an indoor jogging track and pool all for free! 

“X Out” last-minute gift shopping when possible

Holiday spending, birthdays and commitments can add to expenses. When it comes to gifts, consider making a gift instead. You can also plan in advance to save or purchase gifts during big sales for events throughout the year. 

Your routine can help you save money

Establishing a daily routine can help you mentally, physically and fiscally! Items to consider include meal planning for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, and setting up your own coffee station so you’re not tempted to go out for coffee often. 

Zoom or in-person classes? Make sure you’re paying attention 

To get the most for your tuition money, try to engage as best you can in all of your classes - whether virtual or in person. When picking out your courses each semester, it’s also helpful to set up an appointment with your advisor to see which classes may double count and ultimately save you money! 

We hope these savings ABCs are a helpful resource for you as you navigate through a new semester of school! Best of luck in this new year and if you have any questions on budgeting, building your credit or opening a Free Checking Account – we are always here for you. Go Beach!