Coming to college is incredibly exciting. So exciting, in fact, that you might get a little carried away with spending. Going out to eat with friends, new JMU gear, all of your textbooks, the occasional “I really don’t need this, but…” shopping trip. Each of these things will add up faster than you could imagine at the start of a new semester, and then it’s all gone! All that money you saved from working hard over breaks – or maybe even just some gifted money you got from a generous family member. Whether you’re an extra-impressive Duke paying your way through school on your own or one that is fortunate enough to have support from family or friends, saving your money is never a bad habit.
Why should I budget my money now?
Budgeting is a life skill that may not be easy at first, but will surely pay off in the end. College is the perfect time to take control of your habits and plan your spending. I’m no financial advisor, but I’ve learned a lot throughout my college experience budgeting the money I have to make it go a long way!
How do I get started?
There are a few things that you can do to get your mind focused on saving your money. However, take these steps one at a time, and don’t get intimidated. There is no rush in creating your budget. Taking it slow and steady may be the best way to sticking to the plan once you have it all together. Create your budget following these simple steps:
Be cognizant of how much you make
Everyone has a different kind of income, but it is essential to know how much money you’re getting each month in order to plan out a monthly spending guide. If you have more than one area of income, then add these two numbers together for your net value. If your income varies from month to month, then simply estimate your net income and alter it as needed. It may seem obvious to understand how much you’re really making, but it is definitely the most important first step of planning your budget!
Start to track your spending
When you begin your budget, it is helpful to take one month of tracking all of your spending as a benchmark for your financial priorities. You could do this in a banking app or by simply writing down your purchases. There are some things that are necessary for you to spend money on like groceries, gas, or bills. These are purchases that you know you will need to have money for each month, so noting the amount you spend on them is important. After noting these essential areas of spending, you can track how much money you spend on things that may be less of a priority. If you track everything you spend your money on in month one of your plan, following the next few steps can become much easier.
Set your budgeting plan and goals
After taking a month to lay out your spending, you can begin to write down and sanction out your money into each of your expenses. Remember here that your spending priorities are the most important to plan for in this step. Setting aside some money for an extra “treat yoself” purchase isn’t a bad idea either! This doesn’t mean you need to spend all of this money every month, instead it is there for you to use when you really want to make a small splurge. Any money left over from your ‘extras’ should be added into your savings. This can act as your small emergency fund that will be available to dip into when something unexpected, but pricey, happens.
With this plan, set some goals to reach each month. This could be anything from finding some coupons to cut down on your grocery bill or putting a set amount of extra money into your savings each month – even if it’s just $5, it will all add up!
Make adjustments as necessary
Being that this is your personal budget, making small changes to your monthly spending is easy – and helpful! One month you may have some unexpected purchases and another month it might be your friend’s birthday and you want to buy them something nice! No matter what you need to adjust your budget for, just be sure to mark it down and make some shifts in other areas as necessary. Just don’t forget this is all about you and your needs, so you do you.
Keep up with your plan!
After a while, you might lose the focus that you had in the beginning of your budget plan, but remember that sticking to your goals will help you gain the financial awareness that you need when the day comes to graduate. Budgeting may not be something we all learn in our classes, but it is a great skill to teach yourself now and thank yourself for later.
Maybe you’re thinking, “ I know this stuff already!” But have you ever given it a try? Your budget will get you on the right track for your future and help you out now, too. If you still want some more information, or maybe a different perspective on budgeting, check out one of our Off Campus Life’s workshops called Mo’ Money, Less Problems to learn more about designing a plan for your needs!