This summer when I got my fall tuition bill in the mail I decided it was time to sit down and really look at my finances. I’ve always been the kind of person who has said, “Oh the money’s there, it’s fine! I’ve worked my whole life, there’s money in my savings account I can always use”
All the business majors out there are probably cringing as they read this. But I don’t think I’m in the minority in thinking this way. Myself, and a lot of people I know weren’t raised with an understanding of how to put together a budget, how to save for the future, how to put aside money for student loans, or how to navigate the system of buying a car or a house.
But with high student loan interest rates and the realization that my savings account probably shouldn’t be going to that $10 salad at Weaver Street, I decided to take control of my budget.
After much consideration I started a program with LearnVest called Budget Starter, or as I called it- The Budget BootCamp. There are tons of programs out there through Mint, Buxfer, and even resources at UNC! LearnVest just happened to be the one that fit best with my learning and budgeting style, and I encourage you to try some out to find what works best for you!
Here’s the first thing I learned- budgeting is hard. Really really hard. The first two months of having a budget I overspent it in about the first two weeks. This killed me. I should be able to control my spending habits, right?
And while I’m still having my ups and downs, I have learned some tips that have definitely cut down the amount I’m going over. Baby steps, right?
1) Quit eating out. This was a hard one for me. As a student, I try to maximize my time- at all times. So this means when I hang out with friends, we’re typically eating. I’ve noticed that there’s a big social aspect to not eating or drinking when everyone else is, and that was hard to get over. I’m not saying don’t ever eat out, but if friends are going to a coffee shop or a place with outdoor seating- bring your own food! Most places either won’t see you, or won’t care if you have your own coffee mug. Need some ideas for cost-friendly snacks to make? See our blog post on healthy snacks that are affordable, or our post on cost-smart food shopping! Another way you can work eating out into your budget is to prepare for these social situations. Save your money to spend with friends, and don’t buy a sandwich or coffee on the go by yourself. The snacks talked about in the links above are a great way to stay fueled when you’re on the go!
2) Know when the money is worth it. As a friend put it, “I’ve got champagne taste with a PBR budget”. I happen to love craft beer, but unfortunately it’s a little more expensive than that Miller Lite or PBR at the bar. What I learned from this summer’s boot camp was that my craft beer love is worth the money. I like the taste of craft beer better, and I’m more likely to drink it slower than I would a PBR. So for me, it was definitely worth it to buy one craft beer, rather than three PBRs and leave the bar feeling unsatisfied, sloshy, and still having spent the same amount of money.
3) Know what’s important to you. When I was planning out my budget I looked at all of my spending over the past year. What I spent the majority of my money on? Food and drinks. I love food, I love fancy food, and I love going out with friends for drinks and tapas. When I realized this was way more important to me than shopping, I was able to shift my budget so that I could spend more on restaurants and bars. It’s great to take an inventory of where you like to spend your money, and think about other places you could cut back on so that you can shift more money to that area.
4) See the light at the end of the tunnel. My budget right now is pretty tight (aka $20 a month for shopping and $0 for gifts. Sorry friends and family- you’re getting homemade cards for Christmas!) But I know that come June I’ll be off a student’s budget and employed with a professional’s budget (Inshallah). So those new boots I really want? I’m holding out, because I know that I can make it another eight months without them until I have a little more wiggle room with my money. Not much, because hello student loan repayment, but some more- and as long as I’ve got that hope in front of me, I can make it through these next few months of tight spending habits.
I know this was a lot of potentially stressful information, but don’t worry! You can stay healthy, while still budgeting your income. Here are some tips on how!
Disclaimer: Student Wellness does not endorse any budgeting programs, nor were we contacted by any specific program in connection with this post. The specific program mentioned here was chosen by the author specifically to fit her needs.