Tracking expenses and managing money can be difficult in college, especially if it’s your first time handling your own money (or if you like shopping a lot, like me 🙂 ). It’s so important to have a budget and to save. Here are a few tips for managing a college budget:
1. Create a budget — and STICK to it!
Create a budget. This is SO necessary. I actually started budgeting in high school, and even though my income and spending have changed since then, I still follow the same basic format. I keep an excel spreadsheet (nerdy, I know… but I AM an accounting major after all) that lists out my monthly expenses and the amount of money allocated to each (download my monthly budget template here!).
Know how much you earn on a monthly basis, and then start with the most important expenses — i.e. what you can’t live without. Usually that’s rent, groceries, gas, etc. As you get down to the less important expenditures, you can use your judgement for how much you will allow yourself to spend in those areas. For example, I limit myself to a certain amount for “entertainment” each month, which may include an ice cream run with friends, going to the movies, or getting my nails done. If I don’t spend all of that money in one month, then it overflows to the next.
Make changes as necessary. At the beginning of each semester, I take some time to make any necessary adjustments. You’ll definitely have to do this if you’re starting a budget for the first time. There’s a good chance your estimates will be a little off, so after the first month, evaluate your budget and alter it to better fit your spending habits.
Stick to it. Okay, so, making the budget isn’t too difficult, but sticking to it is the hard part. I like to use the Mint app to track my expenses. I can type in my own budget in the app and link my bank account and credit card, so whenever I make a transaction, it’s recorded and categorized. This way, I’m able to see how much I’ve spend on groceries, for example, and how much I have left for the month. I’m also able to see if I go over budget in any given category. This is SO helpful! Mint also allows you to set a goal, such as paying off debt or saving up for something specific. It’s a great app to use if you’re just starting to budget.
2. Save, save and save some more...
Save regularly. A part of your budget should include saving each month. I put away at least 10% of my earnings every month into my savings account. That may not sound like a not, but it grows over time. I do NOT touch this money; it goes into my savings and is not transferred out. Even when I really want that new pair of shoes… hehe:) Saving your money over time is SO important. It’s good to have some money set aside for the future in case of emergencies or unexpected expenditures.
Start investing now. As a part of saving, I also invest a small amount of money. I use the Acorns app, which rounds up my purchases to the nearest dollar and automatically invests that amount into a diversified portfolio. I like it because 1) it’s a very small amount of money that I don’t really realize is going out the door, 2) it’s invested automatically, and 3) I can withdraw my money at any time. I also have it set up to invest $20 from my account every month just because the rounds ups are so small. With the Acorns app, the amount you invest is completely up to you. You can allow the app to automatically invest a certain amount weekly or monthly, or you can manually invest at your discretion. Although I have a very small amount of money invested, it’s a good start. Acorns is great in that it doesn’t require investing large sums of cash (because I don’t have a lot of money to just throw into a mutual fund lol). It’s great to start a habit of saving and investing at a young age.
3. Avoid impulse purchases
Honestly, impulse purchasing is one of my biggest weaknesses when it comes to managing my money. When I want to make a large purchase, I’m very careful and thoughtful. But it’s those little purchases here and there that get me, and they add up quickly. Often, I’ll be scrolling through social media and see something cute, and after realizing it’s only $20, I’m clicking “place your order” before I know it. Online shopping is one of my favorite pastimes (which is actually so dangerous lol), and I tend to make a lot of little purchases over time that add up. A month will go by before I realize that I spent way too much money on things I really don’t need.
Keep a running list of stuff you want but don’t need. My biggest tip, and something that I do to help myself, is to keep a list of these things that you want on your phone. Every time I see a cute blouse or pair of sandals, instead of deciding to buy it immediately, I add it to the note saved on phone titled “Stuff I Want.” If I still want that item a week later, and I decided that I have the money to spend on it, then I’ll purchase it. This practice has shown me that there’s a lot of stuff I’ll see and think that I want, but a week later, I will have decided that I actually don’t really need it. This really helps me keep my spending on track! It’s also super helpful when my birthday rolls around, and my mom is asking me for a list 😉 lol.
4. Find little ways to cut back on spending
Like I said above, the little things add up. If you’re really trying to cut back on spending, find the little things here and there that you can give up. Here are some suggestions:
Ask for a water cup when eating out instead of buying a drink
Limit the amount of coffee you buy a week (whether that’s 1-2 a week or 4-5, whatever fits your budget)
Check your subscriptions (are you paying for Hulu every month? Premiums on certain apps? how often do you actually use it? Is it still worth it?)
Be picky with the groceries you buy (it can be so easy to overspend at the grocery store… make a list of the foods you NEED and STICK to it)
5. Treat yo' self!
Don’t be afraid of splurging! Every now and then I’ll get the urge to splurge on something nice. I’m always hesitant to drop a lot of money on a single item, so I put a lot of thought into it before I decide to buy. I do a whole lot research comparing prices of different brands and looking at different models or retailers. Sometimes after looking into it I’ll decide that I don’t want it anymore, but most of time doing research and thinking over it helps confirm my decision.
If you’ve been sticking to your budget really well, then don’t be afraid to splurge every now and then! As long as you’re saving and staying on track, a splurge is well worth it 🙂
If you start to budget and track your money in college, then it will be so much easier in the future when you’re earning real money. This is such an important skill and will serve you well for the rest of your life!