Money Fix: Advice for college freshmen

Experts suggest parents who do offer rewards programs

Experts suggest parents who do offer rewards programs calibrate them carefully so the gifts don't backfire. The last thing you want to do is spend big bucks to turn your kid into a "show me the money" holdout. Photo Credit: iStock

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Much is made about the college Freshman 15 weight gain, but if that lack of discipline extends to students' wallets, it could endanger their financial health, cautions student loan giant Sallie Mae. To start the year off right, and develop good lifelong money habits, experts offer this advice.

Credit isn't free: "Free T-shirts are the late-night burrito of finances. They look good now, but you might pay later. Think twice before signing up for that high-interest credit card just to score some cool swag," cautions Dan D'Amico, branch manager for PNC Bank in New York City.

If you must, limit yourself to one credit card. Shop for the lowest interest rate and pay it off each month, says John Pelletier, director of the Center of Financial Literacy at Champlain College in Burlington, Vt. Use the card only for emergencies.

Choose your luxuries: "Maybe your new friends are planning an island vacation for spring break, or you want a smartphone. Decide if you can do one or both, or if you should put them both on hold for next year," says John Nauss, financial consultant with TIAA-CREF's Field Consulting Group in Princeton, N.J.

Skip a daily Frappuccino and save that $5 in an interest-bearing account, and you'll have $7,400 come graduation, according to Dan Greenshields, president of Capital One Sharebuilder in Seattle.

Work part time: A part-time job can help pay student loans now, and bolster savings. "Learn to pay yourself first," says Al Osbourne, a financial adviser with Ameriprise in East Meadow.

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