2022 Hawai‘i College Guide: Budgeting 101

As you navigate through classes and exams, here are five budgeting tips from HawaiiUSA FCU to help you manage your finances like a pro.



Illustration: Getty Images



College is an exciting time of independence and freedom. It’s also a big introduction to the R-word: responsibility (yes, we know you’ve heard it before). But whether you’re going off island or staying in Hawai‘i, managing your finances and keeping a budget are some of the best life lessons you will learn.


It can be daunting—it’s hard enough juggling midterms, early morning classes and a vibin’ social life. The good news: The experts at HawaiiUSA FCU have some real-life tips to get new college students started.


Keep Track of Your Money

It sounds simple. But while Venmo, Apple Pay and automatic credit card payments are convenient, efficient and can keep you from paying dreaded late fees, it can be easy to lose track because you never actually see your money. Choose a method that works for you so you can have your finances in the same, easily accessible place.


How to Start

Let’s be honest: You probably check your phone more than anything else. So make it work for you. HawaiiUSA FCU and other credit unions and banks have digital banking that can give you real-time updates on your accounts and debit and credit cards. Most importantly, many have spending alerts to flag you before you go over budget. The HawaiiUSA FCU mobile app and other apps including Mint and Pocketguard can connect various bank and credit card accounts so you can see how you’re doing in an instant.


One old-school but simple way to keep your finances front and center is to use a calendar. Write down every expense, and total them up at the end of each day.


If you want to be really strict, withdraw a set amount of cash every month and use only dollars and cents until you run out. If you must charge something, take that exact amount out of your stash.


Set Financial Priorities

Determining how much money you have available and what you absolutely need every month is necessary when planning a budget. What is essential and what do you just want? Categorizing items accordingly, and setting aside a little extra, will give you the most accurate assessment of your financial situation.


How to Start

Create a bare-bones budget with just food, housing, transportation and fees. Then play “would you rather” with other everyday expenses to determine what you’re willing to give up. Would you rather have daily boba tea or dinner out every weekend with friends? Get takeout three times a week or travel during your break?


If you are dipping into your savings, how much do you want to have left after graduation to rent an apartment or move to a new place?


Remember, you can always talk with a financial coach at the credit union for help.


Be Responsible With Your Credit Card Debt

Credit cards can be a convenient and effective way to pay for your school and living expenses. But remember, credit cards aren’t free money. It’s easy to fall behind if you carry over balances, which results in paying those high interest rates and potentially damaging your credit score. Pay in full every month or pay your balance down as much as possible. Treat your credit card spending exactly the same as all your other spending (within a budget), and it can become a tool you use with confidence.


How to Start

The easiest way to never miss a payment? Set up autopay so you won’t be subject to overdue fees. If you’re still not sure, use a debit card or cash instead. It’s also a good idea to check your credit score from time to time and pay attention to annual fees.


Expect the Unexpected

Things don’t always go as planned. That’s why it’s important to set aside extra money for emergencies and other unexpected expenses. A small contribution each month, even $10-$20, into savings can make a big difference.


Also, never put unexpected expenses on a credit card. Think of it this way: If you don’t have the money to pay for a broken phone today, how will you be able to pay for it in the coming months, plus interest? Your future self will thank you for building an emergency fund.


How to Start

Even with a full load of classes, you might have time for a side job. Or, work over the summer and stash your paycheck. Sell old textbooks, gently used clothes, furniture or items for extra money online. Put gift money directly into savings. If you get a raise, increase automatic paycheck deposits directly into your savings so you’re not tempted to spend it.


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Illustration: Getty Images



Cut Costs WhenPractical

Plan it out! You’d be surprised at how much money you can save on necessary expenses simply by researching other options or thinking ahead.


How to Start

1. Create a weekly meal plan based on supermarket sales. Cook dinner with friends or roommates and split the cost of ingredients.

2. Look into student discounts on campus and other places including movies, gym memberships, Amazon, Apple and more.

3. You probably have already thought of buying used textbooks but consider borrowing them from the university library for free. Or find a friend who plans to take the same class, share the price and agree to pass the book on.

4.  Head outside for cheap entertainment! Every state has free trails, botanical gardens and parks. Many parks have seasonal programming as well.

5. Split memberships. Costco and streaming channels like Netflix often allow you to share an account with a certain number of people for free.

6. Try going without your Starbucks or Red Bull for a week or two and see if you can live without it.

7. Buy gift cards online or in bulk at discounted prices. Around the holidays, many restaurants offer their own deals, like a $25 gift card when you buy $100.



Do You Need a Traditional Bank or Credit Union?

The short answer: Yes!


The long answer: There are major perks that come with credit unions like HawaiiUSA FCU. It all stems from the confidence in knowing someone is there for you, regardless of how you prefer to do your banking. You can walk in to talk face to face with a financial adviser, chat online with a digital banking agent or call, knowing you are working with someone you can trust with your finances.


Just as importantly, you get a relationship that spans products, services and time with a sense of aloha, connection and transparency—and flexibility too when hard times hit, and loans need to be approved or grace periods extended. Bonus: Through the shared branching network, you can access your account through another credit union’s branch on the mainland.


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