Money worries are, unfortunately, part and parcel of the experience of being a student. Many students will be living away from home for the first time and will never really have had to manage their own money, have great credit or live on a budget before. You’re suddenly thrown into the situation of having to pay your own rent and utilities and buy your own groceries, plus manage tuition fees and whatever other expenses you may have, and you’re not even in a position to take a full-time job.
Instead of being able to work all week to make the money you desperately need, you have a huge list of books that you need to buy and read, essays to write, and classes to attend, plus the temptation of a vast array of new social opportunities opening up before you. It’s so easy to get into financial difficulties and acquire crippling debts before you even know where you are; but with a level head and a bit of forward-thinking, it’s also easy to avoid these pitfalls.
As soon as possible, you should sit down and make a list of all your income streams and all your financial outgoings. In the first section, you will have things such as wages from any part-time jobs, scholarship payments or financial aid credits, contributions from your family, and so on. In the second section will go tuition fees, rent, utility bills, grocery bills, regular payments on items such as your car or your phone, and the amount you spend on sundries such as entertainment and textbooks.
The next job is to try to make the two columns balance out. Ideally, your income should be slightly higher than your outgoings, but that’s extremely unlikely on the first pass. Don’t despair though. Now that you know what the picture looks like, you can take definite steps to try to recalibrate it in your favor.
Basically, you can either try to increase your income or reduce your outgoings. Taking on another part-time job may be to the detriment of your studies, however, and let’s not forget that studying is what you came to college to do. If you can find a way to make more money while still keeping up your grades, then great, but otherwise you should focus on cutting your expenses.
Keep track of how much you spend each day. Add it up at the end of each week and at the end of each month. Break your income down to a monthly amount that you can afford to spend. Some outgoings, such as rent and college fees, are fixed, and you need to accept this. Put the money aside in your budget to pay these first. Other expenses, such as buying food, are necessary but flexible. In these cases, give yourself a reasonable realistic budget for how much you can spend each week.
There’s no point in making this budget ridiculously small as you just won’t keep to it. See how much you actually spend in your first few weeks at college, and then look at how you can reduce that amount down. In the case of grocery shopping, learn how to make your own meals from basic healthy ingredients that can be found in affordable supermarkets, and use discount coupons wherever possible. For basic household goods, sites such as As Seen on TV can provide many student essentials at cheaper prices than high street stores. Shop around for the best deals.
Make do and mend
There are many other ways that you can save money as a student. Thrift stores and used bookstores can be your salvation. You can often get great deals on second-hand furniture from stores and yard sales, or even salvage items for free from the streets. Don’t buy anything brand new if you can help it, and sell on items when you no longer need them. Do your best to repair old items before replacing them.
Get rid of inessentials
Do you really need your own car? This is often a major expense for students, especially if it breaks down. If you can get where you need to go on foot, by bicycle, or on public transport, then maybe you should consider selling the car. Walking or cycling is also a free alternative to the gym. Similarly, don’t spend money on meals out, coffee, or snacks when you could bring your own from home. If you’ve paid for a college meal plan, then use it as much as possible!
Budgeting is all about planning, being realistic, and cutting out unnecessary expenses. This can be painful, but there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy student life on a shoestring. Sharing resources with friends can help everyone get by, and it is what makes student living fun and a time that you’ll always look back on fondly.