At the start of the semester, you may have been working all summer and saving up or received a financial aid refund after your student loans were distributed, or even financial gifts from family. The most important thing you should do right away is to calculate how much money you have available to spend on a weekly basis.
This might seem daunting, but actually, it’s quite easy. All you have to do is count how many weeks stand between the beginning and the end of the semester. A typical semester is 15 weeks long, but make sure you check the academic calendar just to be safe. Now, take the total amount of money deposited into your bank account from the loan and divide that by that number, 15 weeks. For example, say you have $2,000 for the whole semester (factor in any work-study or other part-time jobs you may have and bills you need to pay). $2,000 divided by 15 weeks leaves you approximately ~$133 available to spend per week.
Now that you know how much money you have available per week, it’s time to start budgeting. If you’re new to budgeting, this basically means allocating where you plan on spending your money, in this case, it would be each week. Typically, a budget is used to ensure that you don’t overspend your money.
The most important part when it comes to making a budget is also planning for unexpected expenses (car breaks down, laptop dies, injury).
Don’t forget to set aside money for movies and late-night food runs. Though at first, you might say that you won't spend money in these categories, truth be told it’s bound to happen and you should be prepared for it when it does. We certainly don’t want to ruin all of your fun, so work these into your budget, just do so sparingly.
If you do have extra money even after you’ve allocated everything, you should consider making interest payments on your unsubsidized loans. This might seem ridiculous for someone who has no money, but it can actually help you out immensely upon graduating and prevent your balance from growing while you’re still in college. The goal would be to avoid accruing all the interest that would eventually be added to your principal balance over the course of your 4 years, but any amount towards interest can be helpful. Making a budget isn’t meant to torture you, in fact, you should feel liberated that you’re getting your finances in check so that you don’t stress if your money runs out and you have nothing to show for it.
We know that college is supposed to be fun. But when you take out a loan, you ultimately have to pay back that loan AND any interest that accrues on top of it. That means, that if you spend your money on things that you don’t absolutely need, you will just be paying interest on those items/services in the future.
Spending your money frivolously also just ensures that you’ll run out of money sooner than you anticipated which could lead to even more money spent on credit cards (and even higher interest on those). We’re not here to say, “don’t have fun.” We’re just here to say, “be smart about having fun.”
Pro tip - cut out any subscriptions you pay for that aren’t necessary. Sure, we know Spotify is a must, but you don't need that subscription to Hulu, Netflix, and Disney+ when you have friends who can share with you.
This is hands down the best place you could spend any money because of all the perks that come with having an Amazon Prime membership. The best part... it's free for three months and then only $9 per year!
Just to name a few of the Amazon Prime perks:
Free two-day shipping (and free same-day delivery if it’s available in your area)
Access to streaming of thousands of TV shows and movies...that means canceling your Netflix subscription
Bonus deals for students
Unlimited photo storage
Unlimited access to over one thousand e-books, audiobooks, and magazines
Free food delivery on Grubhub
You can cancel your subscription at any time without any penalties, so trying out Amazon Prime for 6 months is a no-brainer. The cost savings are insane and who knows, maybe your next textbook will be available for free.
For more info see https://www.amazon.com/Amazon-Student/
Speaking of textbooks. Renting textbooks, or buying used textbooks is a surefire way to save money. After all, who wants to spend close to $1000 on textbooks each school year? Certainly not you!
When making your budget, you have to account for the cost of books so why not overshoot your budgeting dollars, and underspend on your textbooks? Sound too good to be true? It's totally not.
Check out Amazon Textbook Rentals. https://www.amazon.com/rentals/
Plus, with that Amazon Prime membership, you'll get free 2-day delivery on most of your rentals. If you do decide to buy your textbooks for the semester, there's actually a place where you can sell back your textbooks too.
So, your laptop dies halfway through the semester and you don't have the budget to go drop $1100 on a new one, so get a refurbished one. Or use the Jones Computer Center since your tuition has already paid for it.
A refurbished laptop is just one that has been either pre-owned and cleaned so it works like new, or it's been reproduced using parts from parts that are in perfect condition. If you're worried about the warranty, you're in luck, many refurbished products come with very similar warranties as new ones.
This refurbished MacBook Pro has a retail value of $1299 and is on sale on Amazon for $528! That's almost 50% off the original price and it works just the same!
If you’re not on a university meal plan, buy groceries and save money eating out! The most important thing to remember when grocery shopping for yourself, is it's better to underbuy than overbuy. Also, the best part of grocery shopping for yourself is the ability to bring your own snacks to campus. You don't have to feel guilty spending extra money when you don't need to and you have the full liberty to eat what you want.
Coffee is one of those necessary evils in life. Most students love it, but it can really add up your weekly bill if you're buying it every single day.
If there's one thing I could suggest, it's to buy a Keurig for your dorm and bring your coffee to class. You will likely need coffee for all those long days and late nights, but you don't need to go broke funding your caffeine addiction. Sorry Starbucks.
Let's just hypothetically say you buy a coffee every day of the school week. And each coffee costs you approximately ~$3. That’s $15 a week or $60 a month or $225 over a semester.
Sometimes a little can go a long way. Since you know your dollars are limited, become a bargain hunter. Did you know your student ID can provide discounts for you at a lot of places? On top of your student ID saving you money just by showing it, you also can utilize apps on your desktop such as Honey, which looks for discount codes for you and automatically applies the best one so you can save the most money.
Take advantage of things on campus that are free. A lot of universities will hold free movie nights, events, crafts, games (Harvest Table pop-ups, ASUR Social Affairs, CDI events, etc.), and most of the time food will be provided. You can grab some friends and make a night out of this and not spend a nickel!
Credit card debt is the one thing you CAN control in college. You absolutely, 100% DO NOT need to rack up credit debt so long as you’re mindful of your spending. Credit card debt is insurmountably high for everyone, including you on a fixed college budget. And you definitely don’t want to commit your future dollars to pay off interest and principal if you don’t have to.
But that being said, there can be some strategies for spending money on credit cards. If you have your budget planned out perfectly and you have a credit card that can earn you cashback or rewards. Then, by all means, spend accordingly. Just be sure you pay it off on time and don’t leave a balance on the card. You can (and should) reap the benefits of your credit cards to save extra money where you can. Some credit cards will give you a percentage for anything you buy, while others are more specific to gas, groceries, dining & entertainment, etc. So long as you are prepared and have the means to pay it off.
The biggest reason students find themselves in tough financial situations is that they don’t take the time at the beginning of the semester to form money habits that are actionable and effective. But now that you have this plan of attack, you can assure that that doesn’t happen to you.
The best part about money habits is they will stick with you forever. A budget now means a budget in the future that will be much easier to follow. Think of this as your hardest money hurdle and the rest will be a cakewalk!