Fall semester is officially in full force, which means lots of new expenses that come with it. From paying dues to your sorority or on-campus clubs to saving up for fall road trips to the cutest local destinations with your BFFs, the semester can prove to be very expensive well past the “syllabus week” phase.
Before the semester really starts to pick up, you’ll definitely need to take some time to reevaluate your money situation. There’s always room for improvement in money management and budgeting, especially as a college student with a ton of current and future costs. Here are the top questions you should ask yourself before jumping right into the fall semester.
How should I actually manage my money in college?
You’ve probably heard your whole life that managing your money is important. But what’s the best way to keep a close eye on it? First things first: you’ll want to break down every source of income and every expense you know you’ll run into during college — the more detailed this breakdown is, the better. We love this monthly budgeting tool from Chase because it does the job for you already. This 3-step worksheet takes you through all the expenses you’ll need to consider (even the ones you might have forgotten about). Here’s how it works:
- You’ll first add up the money you currently have from student loans, income from a part-time or campus work-study job, or from your family.
- Next, you’ll look at the “must-pay expenses” or the purchases and bills you will definitely have to take care of as a student. This includes things like your tuition, meal plan, housing costs, utility bills if you live off-campus, and transportation.
- Lastly, you’ll consider your “optional expenses” which include every additional cost. This could look like your daily Starbucks runs, squad brunch dates, a subscription to your fave music service, new clothes, haircuts — the list for this section is really dependent on your lifestyle.
By understanding your income and your must-pay expenses, you’ll then know how much you have left over to spend on your optional expenses. This way, you’ll know the exact amount that you can spend on all the non-essential buys each month.
How should I save up for those big expenses, like studying abroad and spring break trips?
There’s no denying that college is about gaining an education and learning new things every day. But, just as important as the lessons you learn in class are the memories you make along the way. As cheesy as it may sound, it’s true! If one of your major goals in college is to study abroad in Spain, Germany, Japan, or wherever your heart longs for, you’ll definitely need to have a budget so you can make your dream a reality. Not dreaming of studying abroad? That doesn’t mean you can abandon your budget. Even if you’re planning something as simple as a weekend getaway on the beach for one last hoorah during your senior year, you’ll most likely need to set aside some extra cash to make it happen.
In order to make those big (and small) milestone moments happen, the key is to really examine your day-to-day and monthly expenses and see what you can cut out. That daily kale, avocado, cacao smoothie may be healthy, but $7 to $8 a day turns into $50 a week, which turns into over $2,500 in just one year (yikes). This can go for any “small” purchase you may find yourself regularly making. Definitely having a budget worksheet by your side and really paying attention to those optional expenses is your best bet in saving up for those major college moments.
What should my next steps be financially after this school year?
It’s so crucial to carry on the healthy money habits you’ve established for all of your college years (and beyond!). If you move out of the dorms and have to start paying utility fees in your new apartment, revisit your budget worksheet and make the necessary adjustments to #makeitwork. If you land a new job, first — congrats! Second, factor in the new cash you’ll be making. See where you want to fit this new income into a savings plan, whether that may look like focusing on future grad school plans or a weekend trip with the squad next semester. We also totally recommend opening your first checking account if you haven’t already.
Before getting ahead of yourself with all of the possible school year plans, take the time to ask yourself these all-important questions. You’ll be on the right track to financial balance and bliss, allowing yourself to afford college and have room for all the fun experiences that come along with it.
JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. Member FDIC
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