Our Tips, Tricks and Thoughts on Managing Money

Let's be real: managing money is hard. Like, really really hard. Even if you live by a line by line budget, it's hard not to be tempted by the latest Kylie Lip Kit, or thrown when your car breaks down and needs a $500 repair. And if you go to a school like SMU, where everyone seems to have their financial situation figured out, it can be even more daunting to admit that you don't know what you're doing. But to be completely real, money management is difficult for most college students, even the ones who act like they have it together. That's why we've complied some of our best money management tips, tricks and ideas from real writers who struggle the same way you do. 


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HCSMU: How do you approach ideas like budgeting and being “smart” with your money? How would you describe your general philosophy for money management?

Madeline Hutfless: I make a 0 sum budget at the end of every month for the following month. It forces me to be aware of my bank account for the rest of the month. My philosophy of money management is that anyone can be a millionaire if they start saving young.

Sydney Fellner: I think the main way I approach budgeting and being "smart" with my money is by having a good idea of how I actually spend and save. I wouldn't be doing myself any favors if I tried to pretend I was always 100% fiscally responsible I'm a twenty-year-old, I buy a lot of random junk. By taking a look at how I actually operate, I'm able to get a good idea of my limits. For instance, I know to keep my bank account with a bit of a safety net of funds in case something unexpected pops up, and to keep at least $10 disposable for Starbucks card reloads at all times (because somehow I never stop myself with that one). Ultimately, at this stage in life, my philosophy for money management is to pay what needs to be paid, keep some money on hand in case of emergencies but then the rest is used for whatever is most pressing at the moment.  


Photo by Jason Cipriani 


Callie Rosenwasser: Budgeting is really really hard for me, especially living off campus. I don’t have a meal plan, so the way I spend my money changes whether I eat this month. A lot of that is waiting to see produce prices go down, buying things I use a lot of in bulk and using my coupons! I do factor in when my paychecks come in and things I spend money on monthly. For example, I did Birchbox subscriptions for a long time, and I would factor that into my budget guestimations for the month. For other things, I do a lot less budgeting and a lot more moment-of calculations. The “if I get this, based on my current bank balance, what will I have left? Where am I likely to want to spend that? Is this purchase worth it?” spiel. 

HCSMU: What are some smart swaps and/or tricks that you’ve discovered that help you stay in your budget?

MH: My biggest recommendation for anyone trying to save is to look at the subscriptions you’re paying for. If you have an HBO account that is $20 per month and you only use it for Game of Thrones, it won’t be back out until 2019, so cancel it until then!

SF: As much as I can (which is hard in the very digital world we're in) I try to keep things liquid. If I have to pay for something using actual cash, I think about it way more than I would if I just had to slide my debit card. Of course, I'm a really huge online shopper, so my main trick there is that I never allow myself to buy something the same day I see it. I put what I want in my shopping cart, then I sleep on it. If I still want it the next day, I may come back and purchase it, but if not, I just saved myself from a random impulse buy on a site that already has my payment info loaded up. I also found that my biggest spending habit is on food specifically, late night food from Favor or UberEats. I combat this by trying to make trips to the grocery store to keep my fridge stocked. About $50 at Central Market, if used well, can get me seven meals. $50 with Favor can get me two meals, and that's if I don't load up on extra guacamole or tip very well. If I get food in advance, I have something nearby to eat at all the random hours I would otherwise be trying to call for delivery. 


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CR: I actually really hate cash. I don’t remember where I spent it, I can’t track it, I can’t look back over the month and remember exactly why I’m going broke. I much prefer using my debit or credit card, both of which are through my bank, Bank of America. Then, I can see how much I’m spending, what I have left, and where I need to stop spending so much money. Also through Bank of America, my credit card gives me some great rewards! I have the Cash Rewards Visa card, and it gives me really great cash back on entertainment, food and gas.

HCSMU: Do you use a budget? Why or why not? Do you think a line by line budget is a practical way for students to manage their money?

MH: Yes! I get a specific allowance and I need to make it last the month. The best way to make a budget is determine what you’re spending your money on now and see where you can cut back. Don’t stress about a line by line budget. The first one won’t be perfect regardless!

SF: I've tried to use a budget, I really have, but at this stage of my life, the traditional line by line budget doesn't really work for me. While I think for some college students it could work, for me, a lot of what makes the budget successful doesn't apply. My work hours aren't always the same, which means I may not have the same level of income each period, so that's hard to plan around; I also live in the dorms, so I'm not paying for any consistent rent or bills. The only semi-consistent payments I may have are basically gas, groceries, and sorority dues, and even those fluctuate depending on the time of the year (and whether I can convince my Mom to help me out). In short, a traditional budget hasn't been too effective for me. What has though, is an expense tracker. If I make myself write out what I buy, my god, I really have to take a look at myself and decide where I need to make changes. My issue isn't structure so much as needing to be self-aware, and an expense tracker gives me that.


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CR:  Budgeting is hard for anyone, so I focus more on saving money and making a little extra so I can continue to buy the things I want and need! I have accounts with a number of cash back services. My favorites include ShopAtHome.com, JoinHoney.com, and RetailMeNot.com! All three of those actually have buttons you can download for chrome so you can try to get discounts and/or cash back anywhere you shop!

HCSMU: What do you think is the most difficult aspect of money management in college? What unique challenges do you think students face when it comes to managing money wisely? How have you overcome/dealt with these challenges?

MH: Everything costs money in college bars, movies, dinner, birthdays, rent, utilities, gas, etc. It’s hard to decide what to spend your money on when you want to do it all. I came over these challenges by giving room for myself in the budget just for ‘blow money’ and entertainment.

SF: When you're in college, it is exceedingly difficult to be a full-time student while also earning enough money to live the kind of lifestyle that you want/society tells you that you should be having. How am I supposed to brunch every weekend, Uber all over Dallas, get new clothes all on a part time job budget? I can't. You have to make sacrifices, which is hard, because in a way it feels like you're missing out on part of the "college experience" if you do. I just try and remind myself that other people are also trying to strike that balance, and even if a fellow classmate isn't yet, they will soon when that post-grad life happens. I treat myself whenever I can, but I've also learned how to say no. I think it's difficult to manage money in college because it's the first real time we're out of the house, but we're not yet full adults capable of earning all our own money. We want to be independent, and our parents certainly want to stop paying for all of our stuff... but there's a point where, as students, sometimes we just can't do it all on our own. At least for me, I try not to go back asking for money unless it's for something I actually need; this not only makes my Mom more likely to want to help me out, but it's helping prepare me for being an Actual Adult.