Do not believe the hype, the movies or the credit card companies: you don’t have to be a broke college student. It may be the nationally accepted norm, but failing to learn one of the most important life lessons — money management — will hurt you in the long run. More and more students are taking out bigger student loans than ever before, and they are, understandably, having a harder time paying those loans back.

Fresh out of college, most of us are hoping to start building a career, family and safety net, not working to pay off the education that got us a job in the first place. Here are the four commandments for college students who want to thrive throughout their college years, and not just scrape by.

Thou Shalt Not Get More than One Credit Card

Avoid the onslaught of credit card applications sent to you, often before your 18th birthday. This is the first step to stay out of debt for the rest of your life. Adopt this mantra: “I can’t spend it if I don’t have it.” Cash is king. If you have trouble separating your credit card from the money you have in the bank, use cash for all expenses separated into labeled envelopes. When the cash is gone, it’s gone until the next paycheck. Having one credit card is great for building your credit, but only if you use it for a few fixed monthly costs, like your phone bill or your renter’s insurance.

Thou Shalt Learn to Cook

Food is expensive, and eating out on a regular basis can really rack up the bills. So get on Pinterest and learn how to cook food you actually like. Obsessed with orange chicken from your favorite takeout spot, or sweet potato fries from the pub down the street? There are millions of recipes available online to make on your own. Experiment with a different one every Friday instead of heading out to the bars and dropping serious change on food and drinks. You’ll be an appetizer expert in no time. Plus, having everyone over to your apartment will save you cab fare!

Thou Shalt Cover Thy Bases

The easiest way to get into debt is to be blindsided by an unexpected disaster, illness or emergency. Protect yourself from losing everything with good health and renter’s insurance. These aren’t fun checks to write every month, but you don’t ever want to be in the position where you wish you had paid a little extra money each month to protect your health and your assets. Live with people you trust. Use a professional rental site like during your apartment search to avoid spinning the roulette wheel with public classified ads and potential rental scams.

Thou Shalt Save

We all plan to save money, quit smoking or lose weight, right? But how many of us actually do just that? And how many of us say, “I’ll start tomorrow”? There is a simple solution to one of these dilemmas: make your savings automatic. Most banks allow you to automate a transfer to savings on a certain day each month for a specific amount. Or go online as soon as your paycheck posts and transfer 10 percent into a rainy day fund. Get in the habit of saving now and you’ll find saving for what you really want in life comes much easier when it really counts.


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