College Budgeting: How to Make a Little Money Stretch a Lonnng Way

Broke college student was me. I mean, I made sporadic money through a mix of random care.com babysitting gigs, doing hair, and receiving money from family when I was home for the holidays. That’s it.

It seemed like my list of things to buy always dramatically exceeded the amount of money in my account. Rarely did that number have three digits, by the way. I was always trying to stretch my funds.   

Everyone loves to throw around the b-word. Budget, that is. And don’t get me wrong, budgeting is extremely important. But I discovered that it’s nearly impossible to set a definite budget while you’re in college.

First of all, college is too random. Stuff comes up. A lot of stuff. Second of all, most college students don’t have a consistent income. Whether you’re working at a restaurant on campus, or babysitting, more than likely your hours vary from week to week. One week you might make $200, the next you might make $50.

It’s very difficult to sit down and determine your spending when you don’t even know what your income will be next week.

Here’s your solution:

1. Measure your spending for the first 3 weeks of school.

It’s important to know a range of how much you’re spending a week, and what you’re spending on. Look at your bank statement on your mobile banking to see where you’re swiping. That way you know where to scale back if necessary.

2. Check your bank account every day, before you start making any purchases.

It’s important to know how much you have in your account. Check to make sure no one has double charged you. See what’s pending on your account. Are there any unexpected charges or fees?

3. Take out cash.

Good old cash will keep you right on track. It’s tangible and you can see exactly how much you’re spending. If you take out $60 for the week, and see that you only have $20 left on Wednesday… talk about a slap in the face. You’re more conscious of your spending when you’re exchanging cash, instead of swiping your card.

4. Learn how to work with what you have.

You have to learn how to maximize the money you currently have. Whether that means saying no to a party one week (because there will always be more parties), or fixing a PB&J before class so that you won’t stop at Chipotle. If you know you need that money to pay for gas, don’t spend it if you don’t have to.

5. Work hard over the summer to give yourself some cushion.

If you have $1,000 over the summer from working, you can budget about $70 a week for the entire semester if you don’t have a job. Just sayin’.

6. Stay away from your weakness.

Mine is the mall. Yours might be the sneaker store. Window shopping is the devil if you’re trying to save. Only go if you have enough to spend.

7. Grocery shop – with a grocery list.  

Going out to eat daily is your worst nightmare if you’re trying to maximize your money. Preparation is your best friend, especially when it comes to food.

So, this isn’t exactly formal budgeting. It’s more like the How-To-Make-Ends-Meet Guide. Because let’s be real, that’s what you do in college – you make it work.  

Be Easy,

Erin