Rita is a graduate of a small northeast Nebraska high school. When she left school to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln two years ago, she felt pretty good about her finances. She earned enough in scholarships to pay tuition, room and board and books for one year and she had enough in her savings account to provide spending money. She had so much money she didn’t even consider a part-time job.

“I went nuts!” she said.  “I went out with friends a lot and ate at fast food restaurants all the time.

I bought really nice birthday and Christmas gifts for people and bought expensive clothes.”

By the end of her first semester, Rita bounced her first check. “It was awful. It was a $60 check to a grocery store that ended up costing me $150 with all the fees. My parents yelled at me and I had to get a job.”

She was in for an even bigger shock the beginning of her sophomore year. “I didn’t apply for scholarships so I was on my own to pay for college,” she said.  “I took out loans and had to drastically cut back on my spending.” She also “made the mistake” of applying for a credit card and used it for frivolous stuff.  Now she’s also dealing with a huge credit card balance.

Like many college freshmen, Rita was caught off guard when it came to managing her money. Don’t let it happen to you.

Set up a budget before you go to college and stick to it!

Get a part-time job when you get to college. You’ll make extra money and will have less time to spend it.

Use your meal plan. Fast food may sound better, but the money you spend will eat you alive.

Use credit cards for emergencies only. Pay off the balance each month.

Apply for financial aid each year by completing a Renewal FAFSA at fafsa.gov.

Apply for scholarships after your freshman year. They’re not as plentiful, but they are out there. Talk to the financial aid office about college-specific scholarships.

“All the financial problems I’ve had in college I did to myself,” Rita said. “I blew all the money I had saved up before I went to college and every day I wish I had it back again. I hope by telling my story, I can help some incoming freshmen avoid making the same mistakes.”