If you’re college-bound soon, congratulations! College is an exciting time when you broaden your horizons. Yet for all the variety of classes you can take, from Chaucer to the big-bang theory, here’s one thing colleges rarely teach students, and it’s a crying shame: how to live on your own, aka Adulting 101.
Learning how to manage your life and home without your parents looking over your shoulder takes more than a late-night cram session. And that’s where we can help, with this College Student’s Guide to Living on Your Own. Consider this your CliffsNotes for everything you need to know, from how to responsibly use credit cards to finding roommates who won’t drive you bonkers, and beyond.
First lesson? There are certain skills you should master before you leave the family nest. Here are six to check off your list, and why they matter big-time.
1. Creating a budget—and sticking to it
“Learning how to understand your cash flow needs is one of the biggest challenges a college student faces,” says Erin Lowry, author of “Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together.”
“It’s as simple as knowing how much is coming in compared to how much is going out, but college is a time when it’s particularly easy to overspend, and many students may not have jobs to finance lifestyle expenses and therefore end up using student loans to cover the shortfall,” Lowry explains.
Look at your bank statements to see how much you’re spending each month, and group your expenses into spending categories like food, shopping, and entertainment. Then, begin using a budgeting tool like Mint, a mobile app that lets you track your spending by syncing with your bank accounts, credit cards, and other recurring bills.
2. Learning to cook a few basic meals
Even if you have a campus meal plan—which costs, on average, $4,300 for a 19-meal-per-week bundle, or $7.50 per meal, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Education—learning how to cook for yourself is an important life skill. If you’re living in an apartment, cooking meals at home can help you save a ton of money, Boyle points out.
A simple Google search (such as “college cooking recipes”) will lead you to some easy recipes. We like this list of 10 dishes for college students from Budget Bytes, a website and mobile app with recipes designed for small budgets.
3. Using a credit card responsibly
When you turn 18, you can apply for a credit card in your name and begin building good credit, which is something you’ll eventually need to qualify for a mortgage and buy a house. (If you’re not 18 yet, you can start establishing credit by becoming an authorized user on your parent’s credit card, although age requirements can vary by credit card issuers.)
The key to being a responsible credit card user is simple: Pay off your bill, in full, every month, says Beverly Harzog, a consumer credit expert and author of “The Debt Escape Plan.” If you can’t, that means you’re spending beyond your means and should cut back. (We’ll take a deeper dive into credit cards in a future installment of this series.)
4. Knowing how to do laundry
If your parents have been pampering you by doing your laundry up to this point, it’s time to start doing it yourself. There are a few ground rules you should know (if you don’t know them already) to avoid shrinking or damaging your clothing:
- Sort by color. Pastels, light gray, and white-background prints will go in one wash; deep-colored clothes—black, red, navy, brown, dark gray—go in another pile. If you want your whites to stay bright, wash them separately with bleach in hot water; otherwise, they can go with the light-colored items.
- Wash in cold water. The exception is cotton underwear and bed sheets, which need hot water to remove body oil, and those whites.
- Don’t cram the washer. Although it’s tempting to squeeze everything into one load, there needs to be room for the water to move about.
- Check pockets for forgotten items. Loose change, gum wrappers, and other items can potentially damage your clothes.
- Clean the lint trap in the dryer before every cycle. Accumulated lint leads to reduced airflow and can pose a fire hazard.
5. Keeping your home safe and valuables secure
If you live in a low-crime area, get into the habit of locking the front door at your parents’ house so you don’t forget to lock the door to your dorm room or apartment. The U.S. Justice Department reports that more than 40% of break-ins happen without the use of force.
“I grew up in the country, and we never locked our front door,” says Nora Bradbury-Haehl, co-author of “The Freshman Survival Guide: Soulful Advice for Studying, Socializing, and Everything In Between.” “I had to train myself before college.”
6. Maintaining a clean house
Without Mom and Dad around, no one’s going to tidy up after you. Check out realtor.com’s four-part House Cleaning Guide for some basic tips.
Tune in next week for our second installment of our college kid’s guide for help on making your first big decision: Where the heck should you live?