Whether you worked through the summer to save money for the school year, you have a part-time job that keeps a modest stream of cash coming in, or your parents give you a set amount of money each month or semester, making your money last can be a challenge.
You can take control, though, through careful planning, strategic budgeting and smart shopping.
The following tips may help you stretch your money to last through the semester or school year.
Know where your money goes.
While we all might think that we know where we’re spending our money, tracking our expenditures can be enlightening. It’s easy to drop $5 here and $10 there without much thought. But even small expenditures can add up quickly. You might be surprised, for example, to see the monthly total of how much you’re spending by grabbing lunch or a cup of coffee between classes a few times a week. Track your spending for a month to see if you’ve spent wisely; if not, identify ways you can improve your spending habits.
Prioritize and budget.
Once you know where your money is going, map out a monthly budget, prioritizing needs over wants. You can do this using any of a variety of budgeting apps or by making a basic spreadsheet that lists everything you spend money on — from food, housing and transportation to phone, haircuts, clothes, entertainment and other purchases — along with dollar amounts for each expenditure.
Then compare the total amount of these expenses to your monthly income or allowance. If the dollars going out exceed the amount you have to spend, see where it makes sense to cut back. Keep working back and forth until your budget balances. Remember that a budget only works when you stick to it, and an ideal budget includes a savings component, maybe for that spring break trip or to help you cover unexpected costs that might arise.
When you think before you spend — evaluating whether you really need to spend that money, and watching for sales and doing some comparison shopping rather than buying on impulse — you can stretch your money further. Here are some areas where smart shopping can pay off:
- Buying course materials. Comparison shop before you buy, exploring potential savings of used versus new books, digital versus print materials, and renting versus buying.
- At the grocery store. Start by using your food plan if you’ve bought into one. Then make a list before you shop and stick with it, not giving in to impulse buys (never go to the grocery store hungry!). Take advantage of specials, and store and coupon apps, and consider store brand/generic products over those bearing an expensive brand name.
- Transportation, activities and entertainment. Many campuses offer free bus service, gym memberships and campus activities, and local restaurants, retailers and other businesses often offer discounts for students. Keep that student ID handy!
To learn more, visit pnc.com/myfinanceacademy.