Growing up, I was never given an allowance for doing chores or receiving good grades on my report card. If I left something lying around, where it obviously wasn’t supposed to be, it was thrown out—no if’s, and’s or but’s. And when I got A’s on a report card (or when my sister got straight A’s for 18 years in a row), there were no crazy celebrations, because it was expected. Every family has different opinions on giving and receiving allowances, but I have to admit that not having an allowance made me so much wiser about budgeting than even I thought possible.
Now that I’m no longer permanently living with my parents, it’s easier to see just how quickly money flows from your bank account and out the damn window. And while I’ve always been conscious of money, it’s fairly obvious that not everyone is, especially when you’re living with a bunch of 20-year-olds who constantly want to go out at night and get Starbucks every morning.
Budgeting is an incredibly personal process. Not everyone has the same monetary values and, while it can sometimes be difficult to let go of things that were previously a staple in your life, it’s also essential in taking control of your future.
Here are three major life changes that you can make (or try out) to curb your spending and get out of the broke-college-student lifestyle.
1. Cash Only
If you find yourself overwhelmed by the length of your credit card bill, or constantly surprised by how little money you have left in your checking account after the weekend, this may be the perfect plan for you.
During the first few months of every semester, I religiously stick to a cash-money lifestyle. That means going to the ATM on a weekly or bi-weekly basis and pushing your credit and debit cards to the back of your wallet.
Giving yourself a strict amount of cash that you have available helps ensure that you don’t spend unnecessary money on unnecessary items, like that Starbucks drink or new shoes from Target that you “have to have.”
To get started with this plan, calculate your necessary expenses. This can be anything from rent and utilities to tuition or groceries. Set that money aside, and use what’s leftover as spending money (remember, only use cash!). If you’re still unhappy with the amount that you spend on “extra” things, start reevaluating each spending habit individually. For example, even when I go to the grocery store, I usually always have a set amount of money that I plan on spending.
If I notice that I’m starting to get close to my budget, but I still haven’t gotten everything I need, then I reevaluate what I’ve bought. Do I really need two different types of coffee creamer? What about the bakery items? You’ll be surprised just how many “necessary” food items you pick up that you absolutely don’t need. Of course, as with anything else, it’s important to remember to treat yourself when needed. Budgeting is like a diet; if you’re too strict, everything tends to fall apart.
2. Ask Your Bank
When I’m not following the “Cash Only” budgeting plan, I’m usually basing my spending off of a financial-planning chart that my online-banking system provides me with. Nowadays, most banks have a section of their online portal dedicated to monthly budgeting and financial planning. You can set a monthly amount of money to deposit into your bank account, and then, separate your expenses into specific sections for you to view later.
For example, if you receive $500 in a month, you can dedicate specific amounts of money to specific purposes, like $20 for gas and $60 for groceries. As you spend money throughout the month, you can go back and see if you’ve met your monthly goal. From there, decide whether or not your allocated expenses for each section need to be reevaluated. This type of budgeting plan is super easy, and it doesn’t force you to check your bank statement every time you buy something.
When you’re able to visually see how much of your monthly income is spent on necessary expenses versus frivolous spending, it’s much harder to ignore. So many of my friends have started this budgeting plan, and they are surprised by the percentage of their income that is being spent on the daily. It’s also important to keep in mind that not everything goes according to plan. Emergencies do happen, and when you’re not prepared, they can really hurt you. Budgeting helps ensure that you’re covered for everything, because you never know when you’re going to need to be flexible with your money.
3. Track Every Penny
This budgeting plan is definitely not for the average joe, but if you’re serious about fattening up your bank account, this may be just what you need. Instead of setting limits and preplanning your finances, this plan forces you to track every expense you make during a set interval of time. The idea is to help you understand exactly where every penny is going. Admittedly, I’ve never tried this financial plan because I don’t have enough time in the day to meticulously write down every transaction I make. But, if the other two budget plans aren’t cutting it for you, then maybe a new approach is needed.
In order to effectively tackle this plan, you have to start by recording everything. And I do mean everything, down to the last penny. Get a notebook, or, if it’s easier, start logging everything you buy in the notes sections of your phone. Once you’ve written everything down for the day, transfer it to a spreadsheet.
When you’ve input everything into your spreadsheet, categorize your spending by date, cost and item. From there, you can total the amounts up and get a summation of the amount of money you’re actually spending and where it’s going. This financial plan works similarly to the one above, and it gives you a visual of the type of things you’re buying. Again, you’ll probably be shocked by what you’re spending your money on.
It can be difficult to start any type of financial plan, especially as a college student, but doing so could be one of the best decisions you’ve made in a long time. By following a budgeting plan, whether it’s one of the three mentioned or a completely different one altogether, you’re ensuring that you have as much control over your life as possible. And who doesn’t want that?