Budgeting – Tell Your Money Where To Go!
Do you avoid checking your bank account balances because you don’t want to see how much money you don’t have left? Do you sweat with anxiousness waiting for the “Approved” to appear on the debit machine when buying your daily coffee before you head to class? As promised, I have created a blog all about creating a budget and sticking to it. (I can hear the roars of excitement from here!) OK, I know – budgeting is not the most exciting topic in the world, but neither is feeling like your piggy bank has lost all its jingle. Let’s face it, college students need to live on a pretty tight budget. Most of us have been there – I certainly have. Budgeting is being organized enough with your money that you’re telling it where to go instead of wondering where it went. I wish someone would have dragged me into the financial aid office and forced me to learn about things like budgeting so here I am – sharing this information with you to avoid feeling the way I did. Let’s get started…
1. Create a list of income and expenses.
Take some time to iron out the different categories for both your income and expenses. Project what you have coming in and what you expect to go out. You can use the student budget worksheet here. It is important to be realistic when you are designing your budget so you can get a clear idea of what your financial plan looks like. Do you have a huge shortfall of funds? Identifying this early can minimize financial crisis during the school year and give you peace of mind so you can focus on your academics. One of the hardest parts about using a budget is actually tracking your spending. It is important to do this so you can gauge how well you are staying on track and where you might need to cut back on frivolous spending. Refer to my last blog for some helpful tips on keeping track of your bills and spending!
2. Involve your family and your financial aid office when you are creating your financial plan and designing your budget.
Sometimes the contribution you expect your parents to pony up and what they are actually going to contribute are two very different figures. Make sure everyone is on the same page about who is paying for what and up to how much – this way you will have a clear understanding about what resources you have available from family contributions. Having someone review your plan experienced with budgeting is helpful. They can help identify if you might have left out a crucial expense or if your projection for something is way off, especially if you have never lived on your own. Have you made an appointment with financial aid yet to review your financial plan?
3. Be realistic.
It goes without saying, you need to include all of your fixed expenses like tuition, rent, utility bills and so on. The realistic part becomes crucial when you start adding some of those variable expenses like hygiene, miscellaneous, entertainment etc. We are human. Don’t deprive yourself as you may end up making a huge splurge purchase once you receive that large sum of OSAP in your account and completely derail your budget. I have to admit – I was guilty of this. I had more pairs of shoes than I knew what to with by the end of my first semester in university. In my defence, “I don’t need another pair of shoes,” said no woman, ever. Make sure you allow yourself permission to include “fun” into your budget – but be reasonable (one pair of shoes would have been reasonable!).
4. Plan for the unexpected.
Life happens. The car breaks down. You get sick and realize your student health plan only covers a portion of the only kind of antibiotic that will cure your illness. You have a huge project due that requires very specific supplies to complete said project. You get a job interview and realize wearing your DC branded sweatpants and hoodie is just not going to cut it. You need to get CPR certified for your placement. Make sure you include a category in your budget for unexpected costs that come up!
5. Don’t try to keep up with your friends.
Some people will have more access to money than you. That’s life and that’s just the truth. Or some people are just more comfortable racking up credit card debt. Everyone values money differently. Design your budget based on your goals (saving for a car, graduating with minimal debt, breaking even every month), then be confident to live within your means – not your friends!
6. Be Wary of Using Credit Cards.
Before you start using your credit card or applying for a credit card, make sure you understand how credit cards work. Credit cards are a way for you to conveniently pay for a purchase when you don’t have the money – this can be a slippery slope for college students. Just to put this into perspective… let’s say you have a $1000 credit card balance at 18% interest. Did you know it would take you 10 years to pay it off if you are only making minimum monthly payments? Check out this Credit Card Payment Calculator Tool to compare three different payment options to pay off your credit card debt. It is always best to pay off your balance in full by the due date on your credit card statement. Before you decide to swipe your credit card, ask yourself, “Do I really want to borrow money and pay interest on this purchase?”
To close, I think it’s important to mention that you will also need to give yourself permission to forgive yourself. There might be moments when you sit down to review your spending and realize you may have overdone it in a category or two. It happens. Forgive yourself. Review your budget, make adjustments and get right back on track. There are many resources online and on campus you can utilize to help you stay on track. Can you guess what the first one is? You got it – visit the Financial Aid Office or book an appointment to come in and meet with one of our friendly FAOs. Here are some links that might be handy for you.
Please comment or connect with me to share some of your stories about staying on track with your money. What is your spending vice? What are some of your cost saving tips?