Oh, the terrors of being young and struggling with newly-realized financial responsibilities.
Being a university student is pretty much synonymous with being broke.
From paying tuition, buying groceries and paying rent, there never seems to be enough money to go around.
I worry constantly about my financial situation, primarily because I’m horrendous with money.
After encountering a serious lack of funds, I decided to do something: I made a plan.
Here’s what I learned.
1. Create a budget
Creating a budget is the most essential item on your financial to-do list.
You will never fully realize your spending habits until you sit down and do the calculations.
Creating a budget is pretty simple – most banks offer online records of all your various transactions. From there, it’s as simple as taking the banking information and plugging it into a spreadsheet, or some other piece of free software such as Mint, which organizes and categorizes all your spending for you.
Breaking down the money you have spent into essential and non-essential categories can help you organize your transactions.
“It’s always a good idea to have a service or someone you trust, that can provide a little bit of oversight when budgeting,” said Nisha Vaswani, a Mutal Funds representative for Alterna Savings.
“A second pair of eyes can help spot any potential mistakes or pitfalls.”
Once you’ve identified the amount of money you have in the bank, you will be able to set a weekly budget for both essential items such as school fees, various transportation passes, and groceries.
Figure out these expenses before budgeting for non-essential items such as eating out, books for leisure reading and going to a movie.
This is a great way to quickly get a handle on your spending habits.
2. Live within your means
OK, you know what this means: don’t spend money you don’t have.
This is definitely the case when dealing with credit cards.
“Owning a credit card is a great tool if you’re not using it as disposable income,” said Gail Vaz-Oxlade, author of Debt Free Forever and five other financial self-help books.
“In university it’s not so much about saving money, it’s about getting out with the least amount of debt possible.”
It isn’t easy when your friends want to go out three times a week, and you can’t afford to.
Living within your means doesn’t have to mean being cheap – it means picking and choosing your moments of frivolous spending and your moments of Ramen noodles and hot water.
“The biggest problem I see with students is issues with credit, and the problems surrounding bad credit,” said Vaswani. “Having good credit isn’t being taught enough to students, because you may leave school, get ahead and make good money, but the bad credit will constantly drag you down.”
Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you don’t have enough to tip, you don’t have enough to go out.
Plan ahead for the nights out, or the big purchases, and then work around them.
If you know a costly event such as buying a monthly $108 TTC Student Metropass is coming up, do you really need that $10 lunch?
“For me, it’s all in the details,” said third year York university student Darrell Gilkes, 20.
“At the beginning of each week I try to plan my spending habits around any events that are coming up in the next week or two, that way I’m not surprised if I have to spend some money.”
3. Worry just the right amount
Sure, you should keep a careful eye on your income, and not spend money left, right and centre.
Worrying day and night over these things won’t do any good either.
“I’d wake up in these cold sweats sometimes, worrying about my financial future,” said Gilkes. “When you worry about money, you’ll dream up all of these crazy scenarios that you get yourself in, just to pay the bills.”
The idea of not having enough money made me take control of my financial situation. Creating a financial plan has helped ease that worry and will keep me on track for financial success in the future.
Change and changing times
More responsibility is being pressed upon you, whether you would like to embrace it or not.
Your challenges don’t end with feeding yourself and getting to class on time. Financial responsibility is the biggest challenge you’ll face – and the most important.
“Financial stability isn’t just an issue for students, it’s an issue to anyone who doesn’t understand money management,” said Vaz-Oxlade. “It comes down to not making the same mistakes over and over again, as well as seeking information from people you trust.”
Take responsibility and you will be fine. I’ve realized the same thing: plan ahead and be mindful of what you spend.