How to Plan and Execute a Budget While in School
Budgeting during school is tricky because you probably think you’re already money-conscious and saving in all the ways you can. But the small, daily expenses add up and can really take a toll on your wallet.
- Find a Job While in School. Working on campus has a lot of benefits. You get a paycheck, for one thing. But the flexible scheduling and nonexistent commute means you can work before, between, and after classes.
- Work During Breaks. Since every dollar you save now is a dollar you don’t have to borrow next semester. And since a dollar borrowed is more than a dollar owed (think interest), you’ll be saving yourself a lot of money in the long run. Consider informal work options, mow lawns, wash cars, landscape, babysit, or house sit for a professor that’s going on vacation. Point being: if you need money, you need to find the opportunity to earn it.
- Keep looking for scholarships. Even though the stress of working and studying can take a serious toll on your giant-sized college brain, you should still be going the extra mile by searching for and applying to scholarships. It’s free money you never have to pay back. Start with your school’s financial aid office and your major department, then head online: fastweb.com and finaid.org are both great places to start.
- Take advantage of tax credits. While is this is more applicable for your parents (or if you’re a grad student), it’s still worth knowing: there’s tax credits for people who spend money on tuition, or on interest payments for student loans. Check out (http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=121452,00.html) for more information.
How to Spend Less and Still Have Fun
We know what you’re already thinking: you can’t possibly spend any less. You’re already on a tight budget, and rarely eat out, and spend your free time in the library. Which, coincidentally, is also free. But you can almost always spend less than you are. Here’s some places you can probably cut:
While School Is In Session
- If you have a meal plan, use it. While this may seem like common knowledge, tons of students get meal plans and then end up getting food off-campus or at private vendors on campus. Resist the urge, because that’s like buying your food twice.
- Cut back on the coffee cart and do a little home brewing. Get a coffee maker and brew it yourself. You can save over a hundred dollars a month.
- Take advantage of everything SimpleTuition has to offer. That way you can still get the stuff you need, including text books, for way less than retail—up to 90% off.
- Go easy on the credit card spending. In fact, just keep the credit card in your wallet. Use debit instead. Credit encourages you to spend more than you have, which means you could be stuck with interest payments, and that’s just wasted money.
- When you do have to make large purchases (like a computer), buy for function and not for status. Why buy new when you can buy refurbished or used? This is especially true for things like clothes, appliances, and furniture, and can save you bundles on electronics. Do you need the most expensive thing out there—that newest thing—or do you just want it?
- Avoid ATM fees. Either switch to a local bank with a lot of convenient ATMs or stick with a bank that refunds ATM fees. It’s small savings, but at $2 or $3 a pop, it can definitely add up.
During Holiday Breaks
Budgeting during breaks is a unique challenge: while you’re not on-campus and don’t have the typical expenses you would during the year, there are arguably more opportunities to spend your money during breaks, which can feel like long vacations. You may find yourself going out to eat more often with friends, spending more on other forms of entertainment, and/or blowing the benjamins on travel.
This is probably the last thing you want to stress about, seeing as you’re on break from school, which has probably got your brain in a knot. But there are plenty of easy ways to spend less and still have a great time:
- Calculate your expendable monthly income. That’s not your paycheck. That’s your paycheck after bills, your loan payments, and any extra you set aside for savings. Your new goal: figure out that number and never spend more than it
- Make lists and stick to them. Whether you’re going to the grocery store or the shopping mall, write down what you need ahead of time so you don’t up buying everything just because you want it.
- Splurge for less. Everyone wants to treat himself or herself to a nice meal or a night out. But do so with your budget on your mind: use daily deal sites like Groupon to snag coupons; check if movie theaters, bowling alleys, etc., have budget nights; and go with groups of people so you can split the tab
- Think staycation not vacation. In other words, how can you have free fun? See if museums have free days, if there are any free music events in town, or if there are any markets or local festivals over the weekends. Also take advantage of the great outdoors. Hiking, rafting, fishing, lazing away a day in the park—all great uses of time, and all very good for the wallet.