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Bills, Bills, Bills: Why and How to Budget in College

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

The shift to college brings with it new arenas of adulting, ones that were left untouched and undiscovered since we were cocooned in protective family life. I mean, if someone asked me where my money went a few months earlier, I would have had absolutely no clue. College is the time for experimenting and consequently, setting in stone habits and life skills that benefit you most and will continue to all throughout your life. This is exactly why learning how to budget is super-duper important for you! Here are a few easy steps in which you can start your budgeting journey.

Know Your Limits

Knowing the boundaries of your income is where we kick off. Once we set up a fence around how much you’re allowed to spend, spending starts becoming more conscious and honest. Take into account how much money you’re getting from your parents and how much comes from the student job or internship you’re undertaking. Talk to your parents to figure out which school expenses they will be paying for and which ones you will need to tackle on your own. Maybe you could think about working out a financial arrangement where they provide for a certain expense which is difficult for you to cover if you maintain your GPA! 

Budgeting Categories

Everyone’s situation in college is not the same. Some will be living on-campus and others will be traveling to and from their residences beyond campus premises. Accordingly, figure out what are the main essentials you’ll be spending your money on. Are these supposed to be paid off at the start of the semester? Or do they follow a monthly expenditure? Think about your tuition fee, supplies for school (such as books and stationery), rent, food, subscriptions, insurance, gas for transportation, and clothing. Consider what you’re willing to spend on each of these categories each semester and then break that down to monthly spendings. Chart them according to your limits. There might be places where you’ll have to cut down or expenses that you might not have considered before.

Needs Vs. Wants

Frank conversations with yourself, especially about splurging, are very difficult. Understanding that I cannot be spending over $50 on coffee and clothes every month is obviously very sad, but it also empowers my budget skills. When I do get an Apple Crisp Macchiato from Starbucks to reward myself for doing well at academics, it hits different. To realize what’s most essential for you, set aside money each month that you spend for yourself! Your needs and wants might not remain the same each month. On some days, clothes might not be important, while on other days, you will absolutely need that pair of high-waisted trouser pants. Make sure to incorporate those glitches too.

Track Your Expenses

I have an overwhelming love for Excel sheets so, this is naturally my favorite part! But, there are other innovative and fun ways in which you can keep track of your weekly and monthly budgets. Off the top of my head, journaling and using budgeting apps such as Mint and PocketGuard might be more helpful to your needs. Tracking is where you put down all your assessments and calculations into bars and brackets. List your categories, and your allowance for each semester and month. As you move through the days, add and deduct from each of these categories to see how much you can spend from what’s remaining. 

Spending Less

As a college student, learning how to spend less can become your superpower once you know it can be. Buy in bulk, start couponing, and thrift shop. It’s also valuable to recycle clothes with your girlfriends! Trade and swap to switch up not just your closet but theirs in a healthier and cost-effective manner. Talk to your professors and seniors to find out whether you actually require textbooks for your courses this semester. If you do, buy used or rented books. Look out for opportunities on campus where you can score free food and events. Constantly having to pay for something to keep your spot will cause a dent in your budget. So, ditch the cafe downtown, and instead, go to the library for some quiet hours or to the park to read under the sun! 

Now that you know your budgeting basics, you’ve already completed the first step! Spend, save, and start your budgeting journey today!

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Rhea Mukherjee

U Mass Amherst '24

Rhea Mukherjee is a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she is majoring in Psychology and double minoring in English and Biology. A people's person, Rhea has a deep passion for mental health, awareness and adolescent wellness. When she's not nose-deep in work, you can find her strumming her ukulele, reading memoirs or writing poetry!
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