You know the feeling — you’ve had a rough week, and all you want to do is treat yourself, whether it’s to a fancy dinner or some online retail therapy. Whether you’re a current college student or earning a paycheck at your first job after graduation, managing your finances can be stressful. Realistically, there’s rent, student loans, and other bills to think about, not to mention (gasp) saving up! So, how do you save money in college without feeling extremely stressed, and is it possible to treat yourself once in a while? I spoke with Amanda Clayman, a financial therapist and financial wellness advocate at Prudential, who has some thoughts. Here’s what she had to say.
- always plan ahead of time
Rather than focusing on money only when problems arise, Clayman says to regularly plan ahead of time to save yourself stress later on.
“Build a regular practice or routine for life management instead of ignoring things and then having to put out fires,” Clayman tells Her Campus. “So many of my young adult clients only look at money when something is going wrong. This sets up a terrible emotional link that can lead to entrenched money avoidance over time.”
When you spend intentional time learning and understanding your finances, you’ll realize that many aspects are predictable, and can probably be addressed efficiently or easily automated. “This make[s] it easier to spot things that need our attention,” Clayman adds. “[When you plan ahead], you know the answers to questions that might keep you up at night if they pop into your head — ‘What is my student loan rate again? Did I pay that bill?’ Also, you don’t have to respond to every errant stressful thought, because you’ll know that you have already set aside time to deal with it next week.”
Instead of stressing out when you forget to pay a bill or panicking when you see that too much money has been withdrawn from your account, set aside a specific time each month to look over the bills that are due, so you can know what to expect to pay ahead of time, counter any discrepancies, and save yourself financial stress in the long run.
- recognize where you might be “emotional spending”
The last thing you want to be doing come your due dates is scrambling to pull enough money together! “Keep an eye on emotional spending,” Cayman advises. “Are you the one who rallies everyone to go out after you’ve had a tough week at work, and then you regret your supersize bar tab? If so, you may be craving emotional connection with others. Find a way to meet this need by having a good talk with your roommate or going for a run with a friend, instead of linking it to something that will cause you to overspend.”
If this feels overwhelming, it may help to take a quiz about your money personality to learn more about your personal spending habits and tendencies. There’s a strong chance your money patterns have to do with something you learned during childhood, and these patterns can strongly affect how you approach finances in college and beyond. And if you’re having difficulty disconnecting money from emotion, Cayman says: “Notice the underlying feelings, feel them, find a healthy way to respond to them instead of spending your way out of a mood.”
- have more money conversations
While talking about money in college can be overwhelming, consider it a necessary step in your journey to adulting — and tackling life with confidence! Having more open conversations will eventually help you feel more comfortable with topics like creating a budget, opening your first credit card, and even investing.
“Money can seem very taboo, but I know from my clients — and even in my own experience — that most of the time, others are really glad when someone else breaks the ice,” Cayman tells Her Campus. “Ask your friends if they have budgeting apps or practices that work for them. Gather a group that is interested in fun low-cost outings and have someone plan a new activity each month. The idea is just to identify people in your life who are interested in being financially healthy and bring them together for mutual support.”
- align with your values
While your money plan in college doesn’t need to be super frugal or rigid (after all, you want to remain flexible!) it’s important to have an intentional plan in place. Cayman tells Her Campus that when you’re creating your plan, it can help to align your money goals with your personal lifestyle and values.
“Aligning your financial behavior with your values [and] living intentionally creates a sense of self-efficacy and self-esteem,” Cayman tells Her Campus. “Even when we’re dealing with circumstances or obligations (like a much-despised student loan), by mindfully carrying out that responsibility, we have the opportunity to work through our feelings, make supporting plans, and feel in control of our lives. Being mindful and creating a plan will help further that control we’re seeking when it comes to our finances.”
- …and don’t be afraid to treat yourself
College should be a fun experience, after all, so remember: Managing your finances doesn’t mean that you can’t treat yourself! Cayman suggests building fun and enjoyment into your budget, and if you splurge, don’t beat yourself up too much. There is always something that you can learn.
“Even a splurge that busts your budget could still help you learn more about what works (or doesn’t) about the way you have your money organized,” Cayman tells Her Campus. “Just make sure to take a [close] look at the splurge afterward, and be honest with yourself without being punitive.” And if you go off the rails, there are always resources to help you navigate the situation better next time.
The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed about money, follow these expert-approved tips, and soon, you’ll be on your way to managing finances with confidence. Good luck!
Amanda Clayman, Financial Therapist & Financial Wellness Advocate, Prudential