You need money like vampires need blood. There are only two ways to get it—by adding to your income flow or spending less. (You’ve heard of Murphy’s Law and Moore’s Law; this is Coles Law and its great with extra mayo and the purple cabbage.) Save money – spend smarter. ShmoopMart.
Get a Job
To wait tables or not to wait tables, that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to spend the summer carrying food or manning a drive-through window, that's up to you. You know that getting a part-time or summer job will put money in your pockets, but you're not sure how to find the perfect gig. (Don't sweat it. We have a quiz for that).
A formal job will provide you with a paycheck, but you'll also have a chunk of it taken out for taxes. Doing odd jobs around your neighborhood, giving lessons in an area where you've got expertise, tutoring, mowing lawns, detailing cars or finding “free” cash will provide you with pocket cushioning without the government knowing.
Start a Business
Picture it—a fancy office, an eager secretary doing your bidding outside, you in a sexy power suit making deals all day from a swivel chair. That is the exact opposite of what starting a business is like.
Bill Gates and Michael Dell made loads of cash running their own businesses before they had a college degree and you can too, as long as you're willing to put in the hours. Teens who start their own business can make cash by the fist-fulls (or lose it!) AND turn college admission heads faster than any other part-timer they're competing against.
Some research and elbow grease will be required, but the reward will be money, money, money and the satisfaction of working for yourself.
Automate Your Savings
If money is in your pocket, it's always going to be calling to you softly with gentle words like "Wouldn't you like to go to the movies now?" or "The new iPod is soooo much better than your old one."
The only way you're going to save money is if you don't have it to spend. To make sure you're banking a portion of each paycheck, set up an auto-debit system that automatically deposits a piece of your check into savings. A study by NACHA, a nonprofit electronic payments organization, shows that employees who used direct deposit saved an average of $90 more per month than those who didn't. This helpful tip brought to you by the fine folks at Shmoop.com.
You may not be old enough to drink, drive or vote, but you do have one advantage of everyone else—time. Sweet, sweet time.
Once you have a formal job, you can legally invest in a retirement account. We realize that asking a high school student to start thinking about retirement is like asking a kitten to envision life on the moon, but hear us out. Money invested when you're young goes way WAY farther than money invested when you're old. Invest just $20 a week into a Roth IRA starting when you're 16 and you'll have more than $400,000 in the bank when you're ready to leave the working world. (And that’s if you just leave it in cash – if you’re brave enough to embrace the stock market and returns revert to historic means, you’ll have many millions to spend on your grand kids and/or mistress/pool boy.) Nice!
It stinks balancing four AP courses and taking a community college class during the summer. We know. We've been there. It's about as much fun as sticking your face in a wasp's nest. It's also one of the easiest ways to save money on college.
The truth is, those AP, IB and dual enrollment credits you can earn in high school are substantially less expensive than a college course. Wrack them up while you're still in school and you could cut a semester or even a full year off of your college tenure.
Since one year at the average four-year public college costs $16,140 (it raises to an astounding $36,993 for private school attendees – and that's just the average, mind you), knocking out a semester or two can save you a serious chunk of change. If your school doesn't offer an AP or IB program, you can prep on the side and take AP or CLEP tests on your own for college credit.
You've got clothes you've outgrown, games you don't play anymore and stuff you simply don't want. Are you really going to take your Pokemon collection and Tazmanian-Devil-in-hip-hop-gear sweatshirt to college? Heck, no. Believe it or not, there are willing buyers on eBay and Craigslist who will be more than happy to take stuff off of your hands. Get good enough at hawking your used wares online and you can do it for other people to...for a cut of the profits of course. Friends, relatives and neighbors are always looking for ways to unload stuff they never use.
Do Your Research
Do do what you want to do, filling out scholarship and grant applications occupies the #265 slot, just under getting punched in the stomach and eating your Aunt Mildred's prune salad. Unlike #263 and #264 on your list, this one will pay off.
High school is the prime time to land lucrative scholarships and grants. Since most students don't even think about looking for scholarships until their senior year, awards for high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors have substantially less competition. Shmoop's Scholarship Database is a good place to start the hunt, but you'll also want to hit up local resources including your high school guidance counselor, athletic and academic coaches, your religious organizations, your parents' employers, civic groups you belong to and student clubs. Here are a few places to get you started.
Stay on Top
Of course the key to landing scholarships in high school is keeping your grades sky high. Work hard, ace as many courses as you can and ask for help when you need it. Showing your GPA who's boss will not only qualify you for more merit-based awards than you can shake a stick at, it will also qualify you for a serious discount on auto insurance. You're welcome, Mom and Dad.
We know how it happens—you go to see a movie, but you've got to pay for your date. Then you can't look like a cheapskate, so you grab some popcorn too. Of course just sitting in the dark for two hours not talking doesn't really count as a full date so you get lattes after...which simply don't taste as good without cookies to go with it. Pretty soon, your cheapo movie date has grown into a $50 affair before you can say Sequel!
Watching your money float away like the sands of time is a good reminder that you should probably save. Research shows that people who pay with cash rather than a credit or debit card spend less on average than those who rely on plastic. The extra benefit to paying cash on the spot is that it is literally impossible to go into debt. Either you have the money or you don't.
Ditch the Wheels
Cars aren't just fun. They're expensive. See? High school is also going to be the only time in your life when the state will pay for a bus to pick you up, take you to school everyday and take you back home. The only people in the real world who get free rides to their jobs everyday are high-powered businessmen and politicians.
Going carless isn't exactly the sexiest lifestyle, but it will save you gas, insurance, maintenance and repair costs. It may not be cool to take the big yellow bus to class everyday, but financially, it's the smartest.
Shop Carefully for Your Wheels
There are not enough keyboard tricks to emphasize this enough. Cars can be great or they can be fiscal anchors that suck the life out of your bank account faster than starving vampires feeding on Bella Swan. (Low cholesterol diet, we hear.)
If you absolutely have to have a car, do your research, compare prices and carefully, carefully read our guide to buying a car before making your big purchase.
Remember those boring days of driver's ed when half the class could barely keep their heads up? Now you're sharing the road with the dude in the back of the class who's bent on turning his '91 Tercel into a mobile marijuana store. Scary right?
Now we're going to get all preachy. Teens are four times more likely to cause a crash than older drivers. A crash not only endangers you and your passengers physically, it will also drastically increase your insurance, charge you out of pocket expenses to repair the vehicle and could cost you medical expenses. Driving safely won't directly put more money in your pocket, but it will save you boatloads of cash you would have blown at a body shop AND it'll save your parents that heart attack they're about to have with you behind the wheel.
You've got friends...at least according to your Facebook page you do. Use them to save cash. Bundle.com reports that the average American spends $184 per month in gas alone. Taking just one person to and from school everyday can cut your gas expenditures in half. You'll get even more miles for your money if you can tote three or four friends. eRideshare and GoLoco can connect you with riders in your area looking for a lift.
Taking in a school play is never ever going to be as cool as rocking your face off watching that band from the Gossip Girl soundtrack do some musical damage at the all ages club downtown. Never. We're not trying to convince you that it will. Sticking with the school play is going to be cheaper. By getting involved with the veritable boatloads of free clubs, sports teams and volunteer activities going on at your high school everyday, you'll save yourself hundreds in free entertainment and that street cred you're worried about blowing? You can get it back by using your savings on a splurge.
Take the PSATs
$14 stands between you and National Merit glory. The PSATs—known as the Preliminary SATs—are designed to predict how well you'll do on the regular SATs. They will also qualify you for the National Merit Scholarship, an award for top achievers that's also guaranteed to catch the eye of admissions counselors across the country. While the award itself is fairly small—a mere $2,500 for four years—winners and semi-finalists frequently receive additional private funding from their college as an indirect result of the prize.
Tap College Students
You want to look lava-level hot in your senior pictures (or at least better than the jerk who stole your significant other last year). They want their first clients. Senior portrait rates with professional photographers can easily top $300-$500, but photography students at nearby community and four-year colleges charge substantially less. Track down some photo students, look at their portfolios and show them a few pictures that showcase what kind of senior photos you'd like. If you find a trustworthy shutterbug, your wallet will be grateful.
Seek Application Waivers
Everything about college is expensive, even the application process. (That's a slap in the face, right?). College applications can cost anywhere from $35 to $70 each. Students with demonstrated financial need can get a fiscal break by asking for an application waiver. Waivers are also available on SAT, ACT and AP test registrations, but you must be able to provide documentation that shows that you qualify.
A meal here, a movie there. A graduation gift for this friend, an early b-day gift for yourself. Keep it going for a few months with the help of a credit card and you can be in deep doo doo.
That's what credit card issuers are counting on. Credit cards issued to teens have absolutely absurdly high interest rates because they're hoping that you'll spend too much, won't be able pay your balance off and will wind up forking over paycheck after paycheck to Visa, MasterCard or whatever other company is charging out the wazoo.
Think of it this way—if you have a card with an 18% interest rate and charge new school clothes ($50), it would take you more than 4 years worth of minimum payments to pay it. By the time you do, you won't even want the clothes you bought.
Just put that thing on ice. Literally. One technique for taming your passion for plastic is to place your credit card in a bag full of water, freeze it until it's solid and refrain from taking it out until your bill is paid. Once you're debt free and ready to use the card again, you'll have to wait until the ice melts (and really think about whether you need the thing you want next) before heading out to buy.
Hunt for the Right School
Ready to pay for college? As Missy Elliott says, "Put your thing down, flip it and reverse it." In this case, your "thing" is the bill. Even if you don't have stellar grades or enviable athletic talent, there are still colleges who will pay for you to grace their campus.
Single subject schools like The Cooper Union and The Webb Institute offer free scholarships to all students admitted while work colleges offer free or reduced tuition in exchange for on-campus work. All five US service academies will actually pay you to go to school if you'll give 4 to 10 years of service after graduation. College Navigator will help you research whether the schools you're eyeing offer generous or paltry financial aid packages.
Counterintuitively enough, one of the best ways to save money in high school is to spend money visiting your comrades in college. That's because it costs way more to enroll in the wrong school, hate it, waste gas driving home every week, go way over your cell phone plan complaining to your high school friends about it, fail a couple classes because they're just not interesting, transfer and start your college career over again. That's way more expensive. You can get a lot more information on how a school works, what life there is like and whether you'll be happy there by seeing it for yourself.