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Budgeting For College

While it may feel like school just ended, the Fall semester is right around the corner. And it leaves prospective college students with a lot to think about: being farther away from high school friends, having more responsibilities when it comes to schoolwork, dealing with the prevalence of alcohol use, having more freedom from parents, and thinking about nutrition, exercise and the much discussed “freshmen fifteen.” But often students gearing up for their college experience forget about one big issue: MONEY. Off at college, many find that there is more to pay for and less supervision about how their money is being spent. And this is just a set-up for trouble if you aren’t educated about handling money – so read on and make sure you know the in’s and out’s of budgeting so you can avoid empty pockets and enjoy more money in your bank accounts.

College can be an incredibly wonderful experience. However, it is important to be aware of things that can sour the experience – one of which is the stress of money troubles and empty pockets. So before you pack up for school, read on about some things you can do to make sure you are on top of your money and in as good of a financial situation as you can be. 

 

Thinking About A Budget

One thing TeenHealthFX strongly recommends is that BEFORE you get to college you think about a budget. Your budget can be based on the month, semester, or year – whatever works best for you. 

Creating a budget for yourself involves two steps. The first is to identify the money you have coming in: allowance from parents, part-time work, savings that have been allocated for college expenses, scholarships, gifts, grants, etc. And the second step is to identify all fixed and flexible expenses. Fixed expenses include unchanging amounts due at specific times, while flexible expenses include money that is spent on wants and needs as they come up. If you are unsure of how much you spend on the more flexible items, take a couple of weeks to record everything you spend (even down to a pack of gum – every little bit adds up!). It may sound tedious, but it can give you a good idea of what how much you spend and where you spend it. And often people are very surprised to see how much they spend in certain areas, such as on food.

Here are examples of fixed expenses many college students will need to pay for:

 

  • Room and Board: whether this is on-campus dorms or off-campus housing. Also factor in if you will be paying each semester for a campus meal plan.
  • Car payment and car insurance (if you have a car)
  • Bus, rail, or subway passes if you rely on public transportation on a regular basis.
  • Health insurance (if you are not covered by a parent’s policy)
  • Tuition (this may or may not be fixed depending on course load and how long a time period your budget covers)
  • Set contributions each month to an emergency fund or savings account.

 

Here are some examples of flexible expenses many college students will be faced with:

  • Books, lab fees, equipment, supplies and tutoring expenses.
  • Snacks, drinks, groceries, restaurant meals.
  • Telephone bills (including long distance) for land-line and cell phone.
  • Social and leisure activities, such as movies, sporting events, etc.
  • Transportation fees for more irregular transportation needs: airfare, cabs, car maintenance, parking, gas, etc.
  • Personal expenses: toiletries, haircuts, clothing (new purchases and cleaning)
  • Healthcare: copayments, prescriptions, other doctor/dentist fees.
  • Other expenses, such as gifts.

 

Once you have taken a close look at the money you have coming in and the money you are spending, make sure that there is more money coming in than going out. While that might sound obviously easy, in a country with a collective credit card debit of more than 800 billion dollars, it can be harder that it seems to only spend the money you currently have. If you find that you are spending more than you are taking in, you can either increase your income (such as getting part-time work on campus), or decrease spending in one area (such as not having a car while at school if it is not really necessary).

 

Credit Cards For The College Student:

As a college student, you will have access to credit cards. In fact, many credit card companies will work hard to recruit your business – you might even see them on your campus trying to get students to open up their own accounts. But beware – while credit cards can be very useful for things like emergency situations, online purchases (i.e., theater tickets), and establishing a good line of credit for yourself, if misused it can also put you in tremendous debt, quickly ruin any newfound financial independence, ruin your credit record (which could affect your ability to get a mortgage to buy a house one day), and lead you in the long-run to spending much more for items because of the interest you are paying on everything you have purchased.

 

To be a college student with credit card savvy, keep in mind the following:

  • Set a credit limit for yourself and stick to it.
  • Decide on specific things you will use your credit card for – such as gas and grocery bills only.
  • Aim to pay off credit card balances each month.
  • Don’t put wants (the funky jeans, new skis, or cool bracelet) on the credit card. Wait until you have saved up enough to fully pay for the item. This will help you to avoid building up debt and will also help you to pay less for each item, since you will not end up paying interest on anything.
  • Comparison shop for credit cards. Look at the annual percentage rate (APR), finance charges, annual fees, penalties for late payments, and any other charges.
  • When you have good credit, credit card companies will often want to increase your spending limits. Do not readily accept these and keep lower spending limits on your cards – this will avoid any temptations to keep on spending.

 

Managing money can be a tough thing to learn on your own. So if you find you need some assistance with your budget or any other aspect of your finances whether now or in the future, be sure to seek help from someone who you see as financially savvy – whether a family member, friend of the family member, or even a professional financial advisor. The more you work at healthy habits now when it comes to your money, the more likely you will carry these good habits with you through your life so you can always feel financially secure.