Too often, students are quick to pawn off their financial woes on their future selves. I know that I’ve gone on a Goodwill shopping spree and told myself that the resulting bill would be “future me’s problem.” Though that tactic may work in the short-term, thinking about finances isn’t something that should be pushed to the wayside.
According to the Institute for College Access and Success, “68% of seniors who graduated from public and nonprofit colleges in 2015 had student loan debt, with an average of $30,100 per budgeter.”
If so many collegiettes are taking out loans for school and acquiring debt, why aren’t we trying harder to save money?
Depending on your income, putting money aside into a savings account may not be easy. The first step in being able to do so is ultimately learning how to manage your income.
1. Start a budget
The word ‘budget’ can be scary, but it’s nothing to be afraid of. Essentially, making a budget is just a way to outline your spending habits. Even though the act of budgeting won’t explicitly save you money, it will make you aware of where you may be overspending or under-estimating the amount you think you’re spending.
“List all of your expenses … gas, food, movie tickets, rent, clothes, savings for a large purchase – everything you can think of,” ONeal says. “Subtract all of it from your income. When you finish subtracting from your income, it should equal zero. If the total of your expenses is larger than your income, find ways to cut back or figure out how to make some extra money.”
When making your budget, you may find that it’s easier to write out your expenses in a notebook rather than on a computer. Being able to tangibly flip through your expenditures helps get the point across. It can be easy to forget that you’re overspending if you can just close the computer document.
2. Think about your food expenses
One of the easiest ways to cut down on costs is paying closer attention to the amount of money you’re spending on food. If you’re going out to eat every night, chances are you’re wasting your money. Whether you’re on or off campus, eating at home will save you exponential amounts of funds.
If you’re in an on-campus apartment and your school lets you, ONeal recommends “opting out of the college meal plan, which is usually expensive and often underused,” adding, “Students don’t have to completely give up going out to eat. [They just need] to budget an adequate amount for groceries and a separate line item for restaurants.”
Another great grocery shopping trick is taking advantage of your local store’s bulk section.
“I like to buy in bulk because it cuts down on a lot of costs. Buying a one-pound box of name brand pasta is about the same price I pay for a month’s worth in bulk,” says Stephanie Blair, a senior at Western Oregon University.
One of the largest expenses you may have is caffeine. Whether you like coffee, tea or carbonated energy drinks, going out to buy caffeine is expensive. Five dollars may not seem like much, but if you’re regularly dropping money on drinks it’s bound to add up. Rather than go to a coffee shop every morning, make your coffee or tea at home and bring it in a travel mug to your classes. If you like fancier drinks, buy flavored syrups to add to your coffee before you head out! It won’t taste exactly the same, but it will save you loads of cash.
3. Try and buy multi-purpose items
When spending money on household items, get the most bang for your buck by filling your shopping cart with items that can get more than one job done.
“Buying products that can be used for more than one purpose is life saving. You can buy eight different cleaners for your bathroom, kitchen, floor and whatever, or you can buy a big thing of baking soda and vinegar. Coconut oil is similar – you can use it for cooking, and as a toner, as a lotion,” says Stephanie.
If you’re going to stock up on supplies to clean your apartment or even to cook with, there are most likely ways you can cut down on cost. Things like coconut oil and baking soda can be used for a myriad of different things and can prevent you from spending money on items that will get used once and then get pushed to the back of your closet.
4. Look into being an RA
If you’re spending too much money on housing, look into becoming an RA! Not only does the job look good on a resume, it also may come with some great money-saving perks.
“Being an RA is a lot like being a camp counselor, except the people they’re helping are their peers,” says ONeal. “It’s a great opportunity if the student enjoys giving guidance and support to others (and if they’re planning to live in a dorm anyway!) why not look into it? Many colleges offer their RA’s either free or reduced room and board for their services.”
If having a leading role in your school’s housing department seems appealing to you, ask how you can become an RA. While one of the most expensive parts of attending college is housing, it’s also one of the biggest places where you can try and save money.
5. Start paying off your loans early
Though it may seem like spending money is counter-productive when it comes to saving money, starting to pay off your college loans a little early can make a huge difference in the long run. Depending on what kind of loans you have, you may be acquiring interest while you’re in school. One of the best ways of minimizing the interest acquired is to start making payments while you’re in college. Doing this will help you in the future by cutting down on what you’ll have to pay month-to-month once you graduate. The less debt you acquire while in college, the better.
ONeal sums this problem up perfectly, saying, “student loan and credit card debt and car payments are plaguing our country right now. So many students are leaving college unable to step into adulthood with confidence because of thousands of dollars in student loans and credit card debt.”
If you go into the first part of your post-college adult life with mountains of debt, how are you going to have the freedom and piece of mind to really take control of your life? Paying off your debt while in college may limit your ability to maintain stress-free spending habits, but it will totally help you out.
6. Transfer money to your savings account at the beginning of the month
Once you’ve paired down your budget and streamlined your shopping, throw your extra money into a savings account!
“When I get my paycheck I immediately put some of it (half or a third or whatever) into my savings account. If you’re in a pinch you can always transfer it back but it’s just an easy way to make it less accessible” says Abby Piper, a senior at Notre Dame.
If you’re living off campus or if you have any bills to pay, putting that much money away may not be realistic. If you can’t manage putting away a third of your paycheck, evaluate the savings amount that will work best for you. One trick that I’ve found is transferring the money as soon as you get paid. If the money lingers in your checking account you’re more likely to spend it. If it’s somewhere that isn’t as easily accessible, you’ll feel less tempted to dip into the money.
If you don’t have a steady source of income, an easier way to stash money away is by filling jars of coins. “I saved an extra $30 a month just by not spending my spare change and filling it up in a jar. You can also have over $100 if you fill a 2 liter with dimes,” says Charlene Hendricks, Campus Correspondent for Brenau University.
Though it may take longer to save a large amount, saving change that you find around your apartment or dorm can definitely add up.
Saving money may seem difficult and stressful when you first start out, but it gets easier once you get into the habit of making conscious spending choices. Though it may mean foregoing Thursday night drinks and karaoke or your morning Starbucks, your bank account will thank you.