Tips for Budgeting while in College


Tuesdays are tip days and today’s tips are about budgeting while you’re in college. This post is a little longer than usual, but I hope it will help someone out and save a lot of potential stress.

College is an exciting time. You’re moving out of your immature highschool days and into successful career-building days. Everything you do from now on will be worth something in the end. All of the hours studying and researching and staying up late will eventually pay off. The people you meet in college will be your biggest fans for when you walk across the stage.. and one of them might be your future employer. All of this is what they tell you when you first start college. What they don’t tell you is how to budget.

I didn’t go to a big college or even a medium size college. I went to a tiny school that was actually affiliated and sat on the same campus with a community college. And by campus, I mean a shopping mall. I’m not kidding. My “school” was called the Southern Institute of Interior Design but it was AT Virginia College in Birmingham. We didn’t have sports, clubs, activities or anything even remotely student-evolving that I could join or be a part of. It’s sad, really, BUT I chose my school because of three reasons. One, it was close to home. Two, it was accredited by a organization that was important for my major (Council for Interior Design Accreditation: CIDA). And three, it would keep me out of trouble. I finished in three years with a 3.9 GPA so I think it worked. For me, having the “college experience” wasn’t something that was a high priority to me. Maybe I’ll regret that later. Maybe I wont.

What it left me with is about $30k in student debt that will take me at least 10 years to pay off. And that’s just my portion. My gracious and amazing parents paid the majority of the rest already. THANK GOD for parents.

Since I’ve graduated and am now supposed to be wise and intelligent, I can look back and say that I wish I would have budgeted myself better. My boyfriend is as frugal as they come and he told me over and over, “You really need to save better.” And of course I didn’t listen because I have about $2k in savings and $30k in student debt. I can’t even begin to imagine how much I would have if I would have been better about saving. Now that I know better there are three things I wish I would have known about budgeting when I was in school. Maybe these will help you not get in the same situation that I’m in.

1) Shop your home, or better yet, live there if you can. I lived at home for the first year of school and Miss. Independent Me wanted to get out and live on my own. Why on Earth did I do that? I got a roommate (that’s another story for another day) and bought all new stuff to decorate it with. I inherited a few things like a sofa and a dining room table, but that’s about it. It never occurred to me that it was okay to not have a whole lot and to save as much as I could for a future house. So I jammed packed it full with everything I could possibly think of. A few things from my parent’s house would have been fine. And better yet, I should have stayed there. That was one of three apartments I had in the time I moved out till I graduated. With each apartment, more stuff came with it. Moreover, I should’ve borrowed stuff from Mom and Dad. They had enough to supply all three of apartments.

2) Reuse binders and school supplies. I was a sucker for new school supplies. Every subject got a new binder, tabs, and folders. Again, why on Earth did I do that? I could have bought three binders and reused them for each quarter. Also, filler paper is cheaper than notebooks. Not as cute, but cheaper. Mechanical pencils and cheep BIC pens are perfectly fine. You don’t have to have colored gel pens that are $6 bucks a pack. Moral of this tip: Shop at the Dollar Store for all of your school supplies.

3) Write out a budget and STICK TO IT! I should have done this on day one, but of course I thought I would be fine. And I was. I worked two jobs most of my school career and made enough money to pay bills and still live they way I wanted to – which was freely. If I would have started a budget and a savings account and knew exactly how much I could spend in each category and how much to put away, I wouldn’t be so freaked out now about starting to pay off some of this debt. Remember when I said everything you do now will pay off in the future? It really will. Even if you save $100 a month, that’s $4,800 if you go to a 4-year college. And better yet, when summer rolls around double that and save $200 for the summer months. That’s $2,400 MORE money you could have. That’s in total $7,200 you would have in savings when you graduated. If I had that right now, oh my goodness, I would feel so amazing.

So if you’re just starting school or this is your last year it’s never to late to start budgeting and saving money. Those student loans will sneak in and will scare the crap out of you. And if you’re like me, you’ll lay awake at night and think of ways to make additional income like making wreaths and selling cupcakes at the corner. Don’t laugh, you will to. BUT you don’t have to worry if you plan now. Borrow stuff from your parent’s, reuse those binders until they are falling apart, and make a budget that works for you and by God, stick to it. I never said you couldn’t have a category for “fun.” You totally can. Just be mindful and smart. If you can only put aside $50 a month, that’s still  fine. You’ll still have a good amount when you get through.

School is supposed to be one of the most exciting times of your life. Don’t wish it away and don’t fly through it spending bills left and right. Work a little, save a lot and have fun.


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