So I notice that a lot of you have either just graduated high school, or are going to graduate in the next year or so. Congratulations on one more step towards the real world.
And if you’re anything like I was, you’re excited, anxious, and generally terrified. Me after high school graduation:
- Not social, never went to a party, not good at talking to adults/teenagers/strangers/small children; only good at talking to animals and fictional characters
- About to move 6 hours away from home and live in a dorm/apartment, while not knowing anyone at all going to the same university
- Terrified of owing money, terrified of spending money, terrified of paying rent, terrified of buying groceries, terrified and anxious over just about every detail of every responsibility that now belonged solely to me
I gamble that a lot of my followers want to go off to college, and be able to buy all the things that they want, including clothing, movie tickets, video games, vintage furniture, and most likely, food. With this in mind, I would like to give you a few words of advice on budgeting money that my teachers and parents should have given to me:
0. Don’t Go to a School You Cannot Afford
It’s as simple as that.
Unless you’re going to an Ivy League school, your future employer doesn’t really care where you got your degree from.
Needing to have a job to pay for your tuition can be very painful, and hurt your studies as opposed to helping them. I’ve known some people who went through this, and ended up calling it “Paying to Fail”. They were spending so much time working to pay for school, that they had little time to study, and ultimately failed most of their classes.
That isn’t to say it can’t be done, and you can’t have a job and succeed in school. Just keep in mind when deciding where to go that your “dream school” may not be your “realistic school”.
1. Make Sure You Know Everything About Your Financial Aid, Scholarships, and Parental Allowance, if Applicable
I’d wager that the majority of you are counting on one, if not all of the above. I’d also wager quite a bit of money that quite a few of you aren’t responsible for your own finances, and even thatyour mom or dad filled out your aid applications for you. I know my mom did.
If this is the case, stop what you’re doing right now and demand to see all of the information on your student loans and scholarships. Make sure you know exactly how much money you’re getting your first year, even if you don’t know what your tuition will be yet.
Probably for another year or so, you’ll be able to rely on your parents for financial information. Maybe you can count on them being able to pick up the slack if you accidentally go over-budget one month.
But truthfully, you should be taking responsibility for your finances right now, and the best way to do that is to know how much your getting. That’s not to say don’t ask your parents for help and advice, but a lot of kids nowadays have no idea how much they get, or where it goes.
2. Go To the Grocery Store With Your Parents, or Take Your Graduation Money and Go Yourself
Why is this important? Because I think a lot of you are unrealistic about your food costs, and you may want to pay attention to what food you should and should not purchase before you move away. I’ve known many friends who didn’t have money for textbooks simply because they went to the grocery store too often, and with the wrong mindset.
Things that you probably love, but that are also very expensive:
- Junk food. Pretty much all junk food, not counting soft drinks. Soft drinks and bad-for-you juice drinks are usually pretty cheap.
- Your favorite cereal. Your favorite cereal actually probably has a knock-off version that comes in a huge plastic bag at Walmart, for the same price as the box in Publix.
- Popular organic foods. Unless you’re getting a lot of financial help, you may want to be careful about the “organic” food that your grocery store advertises.
- Fucking juice. I hate it as much as you will, but orange juice, cranberry juice, and any “good” juice is going to be pretty expensive. $4 doesn’t seem like a lot for a bottle of orange juice, but it really adds up.
I’m not telling you to eat Ramen. It’s actually pretty easy and cheap to eat healthy, although a lot of people automatically think of Ramen noodles when they think of a college diet.
Healthy options that are way cheaper than you probably think they are:
- Deli meat, eggs, & chicken. For as long as deli meat and chicken last you, and what they actually do for you (as opposed to junk food), it’s a really good buy. You can get lean cuts of chicken in the meat section of your store that will last you a week, for under $10.
- Raw vegetables & fruits. Not only are they stand-alone foods, but really, it’s so much cheaper to buy ingredients than to buy the finished product. The “$1.69 per pound” sign my scare you at first, but consider for instance, that it’s a $1.69 for 2-3 apples. You’re safe.
- Fish. You can get gross nasty bagged fish (I hate fish sorry) from Walmart in bulk for really cheap. It’s usually Tilapia, and while it’s not “fresh”, it’s also not bad for you.
3. Don’t Just Budget Your Money - Budget Your Life
Can you afford to go to the movies every weekend? Can you afford to spend $300 on clothes every month? Can you afford to go out to eat every other day, and order pizza every Friday?
Campus is a tricky place, because it’s new and exciting, and it’s also a trap. At the University of Florida, walking to any class, I would pass by around at least six or seven clustered fast food restaurants making bank off of the students. And let me tell you, it’s really hard to just walk on by a Subway when you haven’t eaten yet, and you’re about to sit through a 3-hour class.
It’s fine to take advantage of the well-placed food joints once or twice, but let me put things into perspective for you:
- Let’s say, on average, you’ll spend $7 for 1 meal at McDonald’s.
- Let’s pretend that every Tuesday and Thursday, you pass by McDonald’s and pick up a meal before heading to class.
- If you do this consistently, you’ve just averaged at $56 a month at McDonald’s. Congratulations.
The same could be said about clothing, the movies, etc. You’ll spend around $15 to go the movies at prime time, and that’s just on yourself. Every weekend, that’s $60. You’ll spend at least $20 on a new blouse at Forever 21. Every weekend, that’s $80.
The individual action doesn’t seem like a big deal, and it isn’t, but when multiplied x2+, it can start to heavily eat into your budget, and that’s where a lot of people get into trouble. They don’t see the “big picture” of the purchases that they’re making until they check their bank accounts and cry a lot.
4. Use Excel to Budget per Month
After you find out how much money you’re getting, and you find out how much money you’re going to owe for tuition, immediately subtract the tuition cost from the lump sum of money, and use the rest to set up a monthly budget.
If you live in an apartment instead of a dorm (like I did) then you’ll have to budget your rent separately. If you’re staying in a dorm, it will be calculated into your tuition.
At any rate, most of you will have money left over for food and basic expenses, or else you’ll get a job/support other way.
Always over-budget. That means if you typically use $50 per month for gas, budget for $100. If you think you’ll use $60 per month for groceries, budget $80. It’s up to you how much you over-budget, but be as generous as your finances allow. It’s a good way to trick your brain into saving money, and at the end of the month, you’ll feel better knowing you saved a lot of money rather than spending it.
Try not to have a “full budget”. If you can, try not to calculate all of your money into expenses. Oftentimes after calculating the necessities, students will filter all remaining cash into entertainment. Don’t. One of your “necessities” should be savings, and it’s up to you to decide how much you can push into it. After you put, say, $100 or so away per month, then budget for movies, clothes, etc.
5. Try to Get a Job, But Don’t Sweat It
If your class schedule leaves you plenty of room for a job, do everything in your power to get easy, part-time employment that won’t kill your brain. If your class schedule is hectic, painful, and you need time to study, then just don’t!
As I mentioned first in this post, working to pay for school can be difficult. But let’s say you’re able to snag a part-time job working at the library, with plenty of time to study and get work done: Do it. It may mean less time playing video games, but at least you’ll have money to buy them.
6. Bomb’s Final Thought
Budgeting is scary, but not so scary that you can’t do it. Get opinions from family and friends about budgets that they may have, and try to get a general idea of what costs what.
If all this post did was remind you that you’re about to have a huge responsibility, then I’m glad! Please feel free to ask me any questions, keeping in mind that I’m not an expert. I’m speaking from personal experience and observations.
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- ktobscura said: I use the Mint.com app to budget my life. It has really saved me. Also, Clark Howard is a guy who retired at like thirty and has his own website dedicated to being smart with your money. I highly, highly recommend both.
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- rocketskipper said: Just a note, Publix is a grocery store located in Florida/Georgia. Not sure if everyone got that :).
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