When you look back on this past semester, you’re probably assessing how you did in your classes. Maybe you’re reevaluating your living situation. But have you given any thought to how you handled your money?
With a few weeks of winter break ahead, and the new year beginning, it’s a great time to look back on how you managed your finances. Did you always feel like you were short of cash? Did you rely on credit cards for basic purchases? Were you struggling for money at the end of the semester?
If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, you might want to make a new spending plan for next semester. Okay, before you doze off, hear me out—it really shouldn’t take that long. And trust me, you’ll feel much better about money—even if you don’t have much--if you have some kind of plan in hand.
If you’re not up for making a detailed budget, at least get a handle on the big stuff. Make a list of your largest monthly expenses, after your tuition/books/fees are paid: rent, utilities, gas, food. (If you’re living in the dorms this list will probably be pretty short.) If you don’t know what you pay each month for each of these, here’s your “a-ha” moment. It’s time to keep your finances top of mind. Check your online bank account or your check register and start doing the math. Hopefully you can come up with a rough estimate at least.
See how these big, fixed costs match up against what you’ll have in the bank at the beginning of the semester. What’s left is going to have to cover everything else you want to buy—is it enough? Not sure? The first step to managing your money is to know where your money is going.
So, again, it’s time to do some research on where and how you spent your money last semester. Dig into those credit card bills, check your bank account. Did you spend $15 on pizza delivery very week? That may not seem like much, but it adds up to $300 per semester. If you haven’t been paying attention to the “little” costs in the past, try it next semester. Look at it as a way to “make” money to spend on the things you really want. Think about it—if you swapped that $15 pizza for a $5 frozen pizza from the grocery store, you’ll save $200 next semester. I’m guessing you could find a better use for that kind of cash.
The thing is, you have to be aware of those “little” purchases in order to make the type of changes that will save you money. So start paying attention. Track your spending and make a plan that ensures your money is going where you want it to go. It feels much better than wondering where it all went.
For more ideas and to join the conversation, check out the Community tread on Treating College as an Investment.