It’s something you’ve undoubtedly heard before: Sticking to a budget and saving money now will help you later, once you’ve graduated. If you work at saving money in college, by the time you’re out of school, you’ll the-have a head start on being able to afford things like your own car or home, plus you’ll have a cushion to fall back on as you navigate the early phases of your career. But where do you start?
Create a Budget.
The idea of mapping out a budget may seem overwhelming at first — Who has the energy to sit down and plan out the finer points of their financial situation after a long day of classes, exams and other obligations? — but it can actually be fairly easy to do. Here are some tips for creating a budget that may help you not only keep track of your cash but also squirrel away some funds for life after graduation:
Talk it out.
If you’re just starting college, it’s important to talk your finances over with your parents or guardians if they plan to help you pay for school or other expenses. Understand which expenses they will be covering and which you will be responsible for. Take notes during this conversation. In addition to giving you a better idea of your financial obligations, this information can be useful when you’re filling out your taxes or FAFSA.
Figure out your monthly income.
Tally up whatever sources of income you currently have, such as job earnings or regular allowances from your family. If you are responsible for paying tuition and/or room and board, be sure to also include any scholarships, grants and financial aid that may help lower those payments for you.
List your expenses.
Spend some time thinking about all of the expenses you are responsible for each month. Start with the basics — tuition, room and board (or rent and utilities, if you’re living off-campus), textbooks and class supplies, phone, car payments and insurance (or public transportation costs), haircuts, toiletries and, of course, food. Be sure to earmark some dollars for savings, too, to build up a fund for financial emergencies and save for your future. Once you know how much money is committed to these essentials each month, you’ll have a better idea of how much you’ll have left over for discretionary purchases like going out with friends.
Track your spending.
It’s important to keep track of where your money is going so you can stick to your budget and build good spending habits. There are a variety of budgeting apps available to help you. Just get into the habit of plugging in your daily or weekly spending to get a quick view of how you’re doing and where you may be overspending.
Update your budget.
If there’s one thing we’ve all learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that life can change quickly and unexpectedly. Be aware that the items you’ve outlined in your budget are subject to change, and learn to roll with those punches. Did your insurance premiums go up after a fender-bender? Did you earn a new scholarship or grant for all that hard work you put into the application? Make those updates to your budget as they happen so that you have the most accurate and current report of your finances.
Spend Less, Save More
Now that your budget is in place, you can identify areas where you may be able to spend less and save toward your longer-term goals. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Consider switching to a less expensive meal plan if you find you regularly have money left in your account.
- Rent or buy used textbooks instead of new editions at the bookstore. Your college may offer other less expensive options for coursework materials as well.
- Scope out locations on campus that offer free printing services. Printing out assignments for class can add up quickly.
- If you find yourself in need of new tech for class, try a refurbished, rather than brand new, model.
- Consider walking, riding your bike or taking campus transportation rather than paying to fuel, insure and park a car during your college years.
- Take advantage of student discounts offered at some movie theaters, restaurants, museums, etc.
Like so many things in life, budgeting and saving are skills that take time and practice to get just right. If you find yourself making mistakes or going over budget now and then, don’t worry. You can make adjustments to get back on track. Just keep focusing on building healthy financial habits that will serve you for many years to come!