Very few college students take the time to stay on top of their finances.
Most of them just really don’t have much of any money to manage. Others have no idea of personal finance and just make use of the habits they’ve learned from their parents or what they’ve figured out on their own.
Most of the time, this is not a winning game plan. There’s an old saying that adults develop a plan and follow it, and children do what feels good.
If you’re in college and think you could do a little bit better with your money, you should seriously consider creating a budget. It will be a good habit that will last with you the rest of your life.
What’s a budget?
Personal finance is not taught in secondary schools, and a lot of college students have no idea what a budget is. Most students have heard the word and could easily figure out what a budget is if they put the effort into it, but have never thought about implementing one in their own life. Essentially a budget is a written game-plan for your money. This way you can tell your money exactly where it should go, rather than just casually spending it without making it work for you.
Writing a monthly budget will really only take about an hour a month, but that’s only half the battle. Following one’s budget is the hard part. The first couple of months, it’s not going to work out perfectly, but after a while, you’ll have a better idea of your expenses, what your income is, and you’ll be better equipped to avoid impulsive purchases that bust the budget.
Why Would I Want to Budget?
If you’re in college, statistically you have student loans, probably well into the five figures. If you were to create a budget, you would be able to focus on the important things in your money and cut out all the crap. This would create extra room for you to save, and help you avoid having to get any more student loans than you need to.
If you just pay the minimum payment on your student loan, it will literally take ten or twenty years to pay it off. Do you really want to be in your forties and still paying on a student loan?
Because budgeting helps you focus on priorities, it allows you to have more fun. It will help you realize how much you’re really spending on fast food and alcohol, and give you a reality check. Is that really how you want to be spending all of your money?
Chances are you’ll find a lot of areas where you think you’re spending too much money, and you’ll redirect that money somewhere else where it’s more useful. Sure you could go out to eat a few times a week, but if you took that money and saved it for a few years, you could have a car.
That’s way better than any trip to McDonald’s, no matter how many scoops of recess peanut-butter cups they put in your McFlurry.
I’m Sold! How Do I Create My Budget?
Fortunately, creating a budget is not that hard. If you can do the basic middle-school level math, you can do a budget. Near the end of every month, you need to make a list of all the money that you’re going to be getting the next month. If you’re not entirely sure, just estimate for now. This could be a money back from financial aid, money from your parents, money from a part-time job, stuff you sell on eBay, or just about anything that causes you to have more money. Add all of those things up, and that’s how much money you get to spend next month, not anymore, not any less.
Now you have to make a listing of everything you’d like to spend money on. This includes groceries, gasoline, going out to eat, clothing, bills, your cell-phone, money that you want to put into savings, the money you want to save for tuition, and just about anything that you spend money on in a month. Adjust each category until you’ve reached the amount that you’re going to make next month. I highly suggest saving some money every month, or using some of it to reduce your student loans! That’s it, your budget has been created!
I’ve Written My Budget, But How do I make it work?
Writing a budget and following it are two entirely different things. Following a budget takes a bit of discipline.
You have to be able to control your spending, which is not an easy thing to do. When the next month begins, you can start spending the money you have budgeted for that month.
Whenever you spend money, pull out your budget, and cross out how much money you planned to spend in that category, and subtract the amount that you spent. You have to do this whenever you spend money, or just at the end of the day. When the end of the month nears, create a budget for the following month.
If you happen to accidentally spend more in a category than you intended to, which will happen, you just have to go back and make adjustments in your budget. Decrease the amount in another category to make up for the excess spending in the category you overspent on. It happens, over time it will happen less until it rarely ever happens.
Will it Really Work?
Yes! You will be able to tell your money what to do, rather than just have it slip away from you.
You will be able to realize better where all your money is going and identify any problem areas that you’re spending too much money on. Your money will follow the priorities that you set, rather than just being spent casually and without thought.
Creating a budget is not rocket science.
Yes, you can do it! It will help you take better control of your money, and be wealthier and wiser than your classmates.