Managing money as a college student is tricky no matter how you look at it. Between tuition, housing, text books, and meals, you have a lot to juggle. Throw in a couple nights out with friends and the occasional pint of ice cream or concert ticket, and it can be the cause of anxiety. But, hey, that nervousness you feel is totally normal. A little wisdom goes a long way and if you put a few basic practices into place, you’ll be feeling confident about life on a college student’s budget in no time.
Here are five tips to get you started:
Track your spending habits.
Avoidance gets you nowhere. Time to log into that bank account, check in on your credit card, and get real about where you spend your money. There are manual ways to track spending- a spending journal, for example, is a documentation of every single expenditure that takes place over the course of a period of time (a month is a great start). Embarking on this exercise will help give you a better understanding of where you spend what you expected and where you might be surprised (trust us, those Saturday brunches can add up), You can tackle this using a regular old notebook or check out a few apps that will help you with the process (to get you going, check out Spending Tracker, Wally, and Mint).
Set realistic financial goals.
While we’d all love total financial freedom, it’s important to be realistic. Now that you know how much you spend on a monthly basis, let’s look at the long term. Do you need to save for a new laptop? A trip to visit friends? Or just an emergency fund in case your car acts up? Putting a realistic savings goal down on paper is an important step toward beginning your budget plan. Take a look at your monthly income, allowance or any other source of financial income and then subtract those monthly expenses you’ve been tracking. Anything left can be dedicated to the goals you’ve set for yourself. If you’re realizing that there’s not much to spare, it’s probably time to look at that monthly spending and see where you can take better control. Which leads us to…
Build healthy spending habits.
If your savings goals and your spending habits aren’t playing nicely, you’re not alone. But it does mean it’s time to run through that spending journal with fresh eyes. We’d encourage you to adopt the “cut back, not out” mindset. College is an important time in your life and you’ve got to live a little! But maybe you can set some boundaries about the frequency of those fun splurges. Other ways to scale back on spending are to look for used textbooks, carpool with friends to events that will require paid parking (even better- take public transportation), or check out that cool secondhand shop in your college’s town (or use online secondhand options like Poshmark and thredUP to buy and sell clothes).
Keep an eye on that budget.
Now that you’ve set some goals for yourself and committed to a budget, use that spending journal or an app that feels right for you to continue to track your spending. Honesty is the best policy when it comes to money and you should be real with yourself about whether the budget you’ve built for yourself is working. If you’re realizing you’re a total foodie and cutting out restaurant meals is stealing your joy, maybe there’s another spot in your budget that can be scaled down to accommodate them. A budget doesn’t have to be set in stone. You’re allowed to let it evolve.
Build your reserves.
Congrats on getting yourself organized! You have the basics under your belt and can look at your longer term needs. A good starting point is to build an emergency fund for yourself. The savings might feel slow and steady but every penny counts.
Looking for a few extra ways to save money? Here are a few more tips to consider:
- Learn to cook! Those restaurant meals add up and if you’re not on a meal plan, this is a fantastic way to conserve. Plus, your friends will be so impressed.
- Planning a trip? Monitor flights to get the best deal you can find.
- Don’t forget about your college library. This is an underutilized resource not only for books but for videos, software, computers to use, and even sometimes, discounted local museum passes.
- Get a student pass for public transportation. Many universities partner with local transit authorities to ensure that students ride at a discounted rate. Look it up!
- Shop student deals. Your college town will likely have retailers who offer discounts for students but online stores like Amazon Prime, Adobe, Dell, and Apple also extend discounts to college students.