Budgeting 101: A Course For Every College Student
By Kree Small
The college years commonly serve as students’ first steps into adulthood, and with adulthood comes responsibilities, self-sufficiency, and most importantly, bills! Unfortunately, we all fall victim to financial irresponsibility at some point in our lives; it’s easy to spend money before thinking or planning, and before you know it, you’ve developed poor money management skills and mounds of debt not tied to student loans. However, as much as we’ve normalized the idea of a “broke college student”, there are simple ways to avoid making this your reality.
Creating a budget before school begins helps make for a debt-free collegiate career. A basic budget for a college student includes line items like a monthly cell phone bill, groceries, laundry, school supplies, and a few reasonable leisure items like off-campus dining and the occasional trip to the mall. When establishing your budget, it’s important that you start small and leave wiggle room in case of emergency.
Destiny Holmes, a sophomore at the University of Virginia, gives the buzz on the budgeting method that’s kept her on her toes throughout the school year, and shares how college students can keep up with their needs while still having the extra cash to invest in a social life. Destiny began budgeting back when she was in high school; she had no bills, just understood the value in paying herself first and maintaining control of how much she’d spend when she’d splurge, which is a critical aspect of budgeting.
“There is a different technique for everyone,” she explains. “The way I balance my costs is by setting spending limits on each expense. Throughout my college semesters, I add up each expense that I know I’ll have within the month, and then I set money aside for food, clothes, summer activities, etc.”
Destiny explains that this technique helps students take care of their needs in advance and aids in ignoring the hunch to pile on unnecessary expenses.
Beginning to budget early on forms a good habit of taking precaution when it comes to spending. There’s always room for improvement, and practice makes perfect. The longer you rehearse your budgeting method, the easier it’ll get, and soon enough, saving a budgeting becomes second nature.
Additionally, when it comes to developing discipline, Destiny believes timing is everything. “You should set your budget at the beginning of the year and revise as needed each semester before classes start,” she says. “This way, you’re able to pay close attention to any changes in your income or any of your regular expenses. College can be pricey, so seeing and reviewing all of your expenses from time to time can help you plan for the future and avoid unwanted financial stress.”
Of course, in order to build a reliable budget, one must first have a regular source of income. Traditional off-campus part-time jobs aren’t required; however, steady income is key so that you’re able to accurately estimate what’s coming in versus what’s going out. Campuses offer work study programs that allow students to obtain employment around campus, paid internships may be available in your field of study, and non-conventional money-making methods such as dog-walking and babysitting are also options. Again, it’s all about making what’s coming in match or exceed what’s going out.
“For the first year, I would not recommend getting a job. Getting the hang of the college course load is very important and can be difficult at times, however, applying for scholarships can be very helpful during the first year. After your first year, when you finally get the hang of time management in college, it is very beneficial to have a steady income because of the additional expenses that you will have to cover throughout the upcoming years. Take advantage of the lack of stress during your first year, because once you’re in the business world as a student it’s much harder to find time to join clubs, organizations, and volunteer as you’d like,” says Destiny.
Lastly, it’s important to get creative with money-saving tactics that’ll ease the pressures associated with creating a disciplined budget.
Utilizing resources is key; off-campus bookstores offer used textbooks for a fraction of the campus bookstore prices, as do various websites like Amazon Books and TextbookRush. Destiny also suggests saving up scholarship funds where possible.
“Don’t spend too much unnecessary money because you’ll need every penny that you earn. If you receive scholarships in cash, save those up. Pennies add up.”
As you now know, budgeting is highly beneficial in the long run and helps in major ways. It helps you save for your biggest needs and wants, ensures that you have sufficient funds to take care of your mandatory monthly expenses, and helps you avoid the stress that comes with financial irresponsibility.
As the old saying goes, “Money comes slow and goes fast,” but that doesn’t have to be the case for you. Start planning a steady budget for this upcoming semester and make the “broke college student” trope a thing of the past!