You’ve done it! You graduated from high school, got into college, and now, you’re out on your own! Unfortunately, that also means that you’re being introduced to the wide world of budgeting the hard way. If you’ve never had to work with a budget before, college can be a crash course in more ways than one! Instead of sweating over it, however, follow these simple tips to keep your budget from getting out of control.
Write down everything you spend. Use a check register or, if that doesn’t work for you, a post-it note wrapped around your debit card. This isn’t just a matter of tracking how much money you have in your account and avoiding overdraft fees. It’s also a great way for you to see where your money is really going. For example, coffee brewed in your dorm room costs around $6 per bag, which will produce several pots of coffee and easily last you for a couple of weeks. Stopping at the coffee cart every morning can cost you between $2 and $6 per day. It seems insignificant when you make an individual purchase, but those numbers can add up fast!
Avoid credit cards like the plague. When you enter into your college years, you may already know that you’re going into debt to pay for school. Racking up more debt, however, isn’t the way to handle your other expenses! Don’t spend money you don’t have, or you’ll find yourself paying off minimal expenses well after you graduate.
Write out a budget. This doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to track every dollar you spend, but you do need to know what you’ll need to spend on important expenses–for example, gas, food, and other bills–before you know what money you have to spend on things that you want. Take the time to put together a budget on paper and, once you know what it looks like, stick to it! Impulse buys can destroy your budget in a hurry, and in the end, they aren’t worth it.
Learn to save money on food. If you have a meal plan, use it. If you don’t, keep in mind that with each meal, you have a choice. You can order takeout or stop at a fast food restaurant, or you can make a meal for yourself that will be healthier and much less expensive. Plan out your meals ahead of time, use your food budget wisely, and keep your time in mind as you plan. That elaborate meal sounds great, but if you don’t ever make it and use the ingredients, that’s wasted money!
Going off to college is an exciting adventure. Your budget, however, shouldn’t be an adventure. It should be a carefully regulated system that will allow you to spend money responsibly while still taking care of all of your necessary bills.