For most Americans, managing personal finances is a top priority. When it’s the only thing you have to do, it seems like an easy enough task. But who doesn’t have a dozen other things vying for their attention at the same time? Few demographics understand the struggle of striking a perfect balance more than college students.
You’ve got classes, activities, internships, maybe even a part-time job, and you’ve got to make time for a social life, too. All of these things can make managing your money seem difficult. But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be. Whether you’re paying your way through college as a self-reliant young college student or taking some time to go back to school later on in life, there are ways to do what may seem impossible.
It’s hard to stick to a budget if you don’t know what that budget is. One of the biggest budgeting mistakes that beginners make is thinking that you only have to keep track of your bills. If you’re living on your own for the first time, it’s easy to forget about extra expenses like groceries, coffee runs, gas, toiletries, eating out, and activities. On top of that, you may have to pay for books, school supplies, and subscription services, too.
Don’t let small or forgotten expenses pop up and derail your finances. Setting a budget and living within your means will help you stay on track, avoid the additional stress of running low on money, and avoid building credit card debt when you find yourself in a pinch. The 50/20/30 budgeting approach is quick, easy, and helps you break your budget down into needs, wants, and savings.
In some course loads, textbooks alone can be enough to break the bank. Buying brand new books can quickly add up. In the 2018-2019 school year, the College Board gathered that college students spent about $1,290 on costs related to books and supplies alone. If you buy your books used, they’ll cost a mere fraction of the original price, and will help bring this number down.
Just be sure to flip through used books first to make sure they’re not full of other students’ notes, or worse, have missing pages. If your bookstore doesn’t have used options, you can check websites like Amazon and Chegg, which may save you even more anyway. Bookstores on college campuses tend to run out of used books quickly, so it’s good to have a backup plan.
For books that you know you’ll never need after the semester is over, ask your bookstore if renting is an option. Returning your textbooks at the end of the semester can save you hundreds of dollars per year. And if you’re less than interested in lugging hardcover books around with you all year, digital textbooks are often the cheapest and most convenient options. You’ll have access to them on whichever devices you choose until after the semester and final tests are over.
When you’re paying your way through college or relying on student loans that you’ll have to pay back later, manually putting money aside can feel daunting. If you have trouble remembering or can’t push yourself to put money aside, it’s easier to automate the process. Most banks will let you do this right on their website. Even if it’s just $20 per week or paycheck, you’ll be happy when you see it start to accumulate. And with it separated into another account, you’ll be less likely to overspend since it’ll require you manually moving it back first.
One of the biggest budget busters in college is the activities. Right now, with COVID-19 lingering, it is best to avoid these social gatherings. When activities do pick up again and are safe to attend, look for free concerts, on-campus activities, and choose things like hikes, walks, or bike rides. Until then, look for ways to have an inexpensive night-in. Buy snacks and use the kitchen in your dorm building to prepare some goodies for a game night or Netflix movie night. The savings will add up to a lot over time.
Speaking of Netflix… That’s one that you might want to keep since it’s pretty inexpensive in the grand scheme of things, offers countless hours of entertainment, and the cost can be split between multiple users. But what about the Spotify subscription you forgot you had, the magazines that are accumulating back at home, or the monthly beauty box that costs three times more than just buying the things you know you need? Subscriptions are convenient but not all of them are necessary. Look at your bank statements to see what you can cut and then use that money for necessities, books, or to pad your savings instead.