Financial Literacy

Money Management

Managing money is the key to financial success, but it can be especially difficult for students on a tight budget.  So the Financial Aid Office has put together a few ideas to help make it easier.

Banking and Credit Card Management

Before choosing a bank, visit their website or local branch. Determine whether they offer free checking and savings accounts for students, and if you need to have a minimum account balance to avoid fees. Make sure you will have ATM access conveniently located near you.  And confirm if there are the fees for using out-of-network ATMs. Once you’ve chosen a bank, one of the most important things you can do is set up online or mobile banking. This will give you 24/7 access to your account information and help you manage your deposits and spending. And if you receive financial aid, be sure to arrange for direct deposit.

To resist the temptation to overspend, we suggest that students avoid carrying credit cards.  While having a credit card can be a valuable financial tool, you need to manage your money wisely.  The Federal Reserve Board's consumer guide can help you make informed financial decisions before choosing to apply for credit.

Budgeting Tools

Establish a reasonable budget using the Budgeting Money Worksheet available through our forms page. There are also many popular calculators available on the FinAid website to help students plan ahead. 

After you've balanced your budget, begin keeping a detailed record of what you spend. Expenses for one semester should show whether or not you are following your plan.  If you need help making decisions on expenses to include in your budget, try using our Needs Versus Want Worksheet. For ideas on how to easily cut costs, consider the following:


  • If your budget is tight, consider visiting Food Pantry, a UC Merced monthly food assistance program to all UC Merced students, faculty, and staff members who have an additional need for assistance. This program is free and provides participants with a monthly food allotment.
  • Learn about nutrition from the UC CalFresh program. CalFresh, federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also provides financial benefits for those who qualify. Visit their website to review eligibility requirements and to access the application.
  • Develop a weekly meal plan and go shopping with friends and roommates to help keep you on track. Compare prices at different stores and use coupons to save even more.
  • Eat something before you go shopping; never shop for food on an empty stomach!
  • Pack your lunch to avoid fast food places. If you do eat out, look for best food at the most reasonable cost.

Clothing/Personal Expenses

  • The Office of Alumni Relations offers CATSPOTS, a community partnership that connects nearly 100 businesses with UC Merced Student Alumni Association (SSA) members and participating faculty and staff supporters to receive discounts on food, entertainment, retail stores, etc. 
  • Shopping in thrift or consignment stores can be fun and you may find some real treasures! Avoid "dry-clean-only" clothing purchases
  • Factory discount outlets offer name brand, quality products at less than cost. If you are planning to drive to go shopping, take a few friends and share the cost of gas.

Utilities and Telephone

  • Check into the variety of money-saving rate plans offered by telephone companies and PG&E. Remember to figure installation costs into your budget.
  • Look for the best cell phone and wireless plan that works for you. Beware of extra data plan charges, and early contract cancelation charges.
  • To reduce your PG&E bill and save energy, turn off your lamps, television, and stereo when not in use. Set the thermostat at 78 in the summer and 68 in the winter to conserve energy.
  • If you and your roommates are looking for a house to rent, ask if you will be required to pay the utilities (water, garbage, etc.) as part of the rental agreement.

Health Care

  • To excel in school, it's important to take good care of yourself first. For those times when you're not feeling well, health care is available through the Student Health Services for all registered students.
  • If you are feeling a little overwhelmed and just need someone to talk to, there are many counseling services and programs available through Counseling and Psychological Services. Their staff is here to help.


  • Bicycling and walking are the cheapest means of transportation in Merced. CatTracks buses also offer transportation to and from campus; undergraduates with a valid registration card can ride free.
  • Avoid the expensive habit of driving a car. The combination of high gasoline and oil costs, insurance, maintenance, and parking fees (and parking fines!) can make a car a major financial burden.


  • A variety of events is offered throughout the year by the Office of Student Life, many of them are free to registered students.
  • Participate in your favorite Intramural Sports. A great way to get exercise, relieve stress, develop friendships, and play the sports you love.

Managing Student Loans and the Repayment Process

Before borrowing, we encourage students to learn about loans so that they understand what they need to consider before deciding to take out a loan.  The Federal Student Aid website provides detailed information on available federal loan programs, as well as  repayment plans, loan consolidation, deferment and forebearance.  The College Board also has a helpful student loan calculator to help students plan ahead.

Need additional help?

Check out these websites for more helpful tips on how to save money!