You may not have had a lot of financial responsibility during high school. You lived at home, were fed pretty well, had a lot of your clothes purchased by mom and/or dad, and pretty much just asked when you needed or wanted something. Maybe you have had a part-time job and some financial responsibilities like your gas for your car, and the “extras” that come with hanging out with your friends. Now it’s time to go off to college, and you will be much more responsible for your own budgeting and finances, but you are sort of looking forward to being on your own.
So what do you really know about all of this money stuff? For starters, take this financial literacy quiz and see if you have the basics first. Then read on for some really great tips that may save you from financial disaster.
As recently as the spring of 2015, college freshmen had this to say when surveyed:
- 12% never check their checking account or their credit card balances because they are to “nervous” about what they will find.
- Only 39% said they even try to budget, at least in very general ways.
- Over 50% stated that they did not have a conversation with their parents about budgeting before they left for school.
- 60% stated that they had a personal finance course in high school but about half of that 60% stated that the course was not too relevant to what they faced in budgeting and money management in college.
- Over 50% had a credit card with a balance and were making only minimum payments on that balance.
You can be one or more of these statistics or you can get some found advice now and not have to add money troubles to all of the other challenges you will face in college.
I once saw a coffee mug in a dorm room that said, “Budgets are for Wimps.” I laughed, as I am sure everyone else did who saw if for the first time. In reality, however, the opposite is true.
Budget are for the strong-willed people who want to be in control; non-budgeters are really the wimps, because they are somehow fearful of making one and living within it.
Millionaires probably do not have to budget too tightly. But, many of them achieved that status by budgeting very tightly in the beginning. So, you might as well get in the habit of starting out as they did, and start the habit of having a budget by which you will live while in college. And if you do, it is a habit that will stick with you for your lifetime, and allow you to have a comfortable retirement (perhaps as a millionaire).
There are really only three things you need to do to establish your budget:
1. Track every expenditure, down to the last penny, for an entire month. Use your phone or tablet and an excel spread sheet and enter each item as you spend. You have to see where your money is going.
2. Set up an actual budget. You can find sample budget sheets online – just pick one ad download it. On this sheet, you will first need to list all of your income – financial aid, part-time job, allowance from parents, etc. Note: If your financial aid comes in one lump sum for the entire semester, you will need to divide it out for a monthly amount that you have to spend. Now insert all of your expenses from the log you kept.
3. Adjust income and expenses as they change. If, on your initial budget, your expenditures are greater than your income, for example, you will need to make some tough decisions. You cannot cut the necessities (rent, utilities, car insurance, food plan, etc.,), but you will be able to cut in areas that are non-essential – eating out, non-discount groceries (if you don’t take a meal plan), all those coffees, unnecessary clothing, Xbox games, impulse buying, etc. Your other option, of course is to increase your income, and there are ways to do that too (we’ll talk later).
If your income is greater than your expenses, you are in a very small minority and, as well, very lucky or very frugal. What can you do with that extra money? Rather than go on a shopping spree, plan to save at least some of it. Saving is a habit that the majority of people do not get into early enough. Be in the minority and start the habit right now.
There are lots of ways to cut expenses while in school. Here are just a few:
- Never buy new books, and, if you can find a text in the library, check it out and keep renewing it all semester. Better yet, see if there is an e-version of the book – it will be cheaper.
- Stop buying name brand products – go to discount grocery stores and dollar stores for food and personal items.
- Get a coffee pot and make your own.
- If you have to have a pet, fish are good.
- Drink water instead of sodas and power drinks. Fill up water bottles from drinking fountains – it’s free! Also, can’t wake up without a coffee mug - hot lemon water can be equally refreshing, yet cheaper.
- 6. Sop paying for music downloads – use Pandora.
- Think about changing to basic plans for phone and cable
You can probably think of many more little ways to reduce expenses, so go for them! Make a game of it, and it will be kind of fun.
If your necessary expenses exceed your income, of if you just don’t want to give up those luxuries, then you only have one option really (and it’s not a credit card). You need to generate some extra cash. Here are a few ideas:
1. Mow lawns and remove snow.
2. Offer handyman services, if you are handy
3. If you are tech savvy, offer to fix computers on campus or work at the councelling services, libarary etc.
4. Walk dogs and run errands for busy working people
5. Sell cleaning services to other students who do not want to clean their own dorm rooms or apartments
6. Sell anything you no longer use or need
Here’s some more non-conventional ideas to make extra cash for various small expenses.