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Freshmen Diaries: Finances

While I received an allowance in high school, I’ve never had a set budget like I do now, where I take care of everything—from purchasing groceries to going out to eat to doing laundry. So this experience is fairly new to me. I was never frivolous with money before, and I still certainly am not, but it can still be difficult to stretch your dollar and balance “treating yourself” and being financially savvy. I’m still learning how to best budget every month, but I’ve picked up a few pointers that may be of use.

(1) Write down every purchase. You may choose to keep track of your spending on an Excel document, an iPhone app, or maybe just on a sheet of paper every month, but in any case, you should be writing down every cent you spend. This can be easier said than done considering that it can be hard to remember to write down purchases, and dollars may float around that go unaccounted for, like the tip at a restaurant that you forget to include in your total bill. If you keep track on paper or in Excel, you can choose how often you check your “balance;” some find it better to keep track weekly while others keep track monthly. Writing down every dollar you spend will make you conscious of where your money is going and warn you when you’re about to go over budget.

(2) Take advantage of rewards. This applies especially for CVS and Safeway—make sure you have a member card at each. On your CVS card, after you start using it for every purchase, you will start to receive discounts toward you next purchase at the end of your receipt. Cut them off, keep them in your wallet, and remember you have them for next time! Safeway cards will get you the “Club Price” on tons of items—I’ve saved $15 to $20 on many grocery runs from my card. You’ll also receive coupons for featured items when you get your receipt.

(3) Keep every receipt. If you’re going to write down every purchase, it’ll be helpful to have every receipt. Every month, keep an envelope in your desk drawer where you’ll put all receipts. When you empty your wallet of receipts, this is a good time to write down your purchases. Keeping receipts in one handy place will also make it easier to retrieve one if you need to return something.

(4) Remember to use Flex. Flex Dollars don’t roll over semester to semester, so you might as well use them when you have them! Flex Dollars also aren’t taxed, which makes them stretch even farther. So use them up for your latte at Midnight and your guilty pleasures at Snaxa while you can.

(5) Always take a doggie bag. Make that delicious restaurant meals work overtime by taking home leftovers. You’ll be happy to have non-Leo’s food in stock when you get the munchies.

(6) Don’t underestimate coins. I have two approaches when it comes to coins. Sometimes I keep a coin purse on me and try to make exact change wherever I go. Other times I will put all change at the end of the day in a piggy bank (I have an adorable piggy bank, so while not use it?) and tally the total at the end of a couple months. If you want to take this approach, you can tell yourself that after X amount of time, you’ll use your piggy bank money for a cupcake run / buying gifts for the holidy / that adorable pair of flats.

(7) Share magazines with friends. Addicted to your monthly issue of Glamour, Cosmo, and InStyle? Consider each getting a subscription to one of them and then trading them around within your group of friends.

Got more money-saving tips? Share them with us here!

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