Budgeting and overspending often become large recurring issues for struggling college students, especially if they don’t track their spending.
For some students, college is their first time living without their parents’ financial support. Trying to juggle this new responsibility on top of a new setting and college-level classes can get tough.
This is where budgeting comes in. If you don’t track and monitor your expenses and spending habits, it becomes easy to overspend.
Students can also practice shopping smart. Using apps, couponing and comparison-shopping are a few smart shopping tactics.
Valerie Housley, the TRIO student support services academic adviser, said foremost, students should keep track of where their money goes. She recommends tracking spending, keeping receipts and categorizing expenses such as rent, groceries and gas.
“You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been,” Housley said. “It’s kind of like that saying.”
Jordan Langston, a junior accounting major from Hurricane, said he tries to put a specific amount of his paycheck into savings every month and keep it there. If he notices that he’s taking too much out, he makes changes to his spending accordingly.
Ideally, students should put at least 10 percent of their revenue each month in savings, said Shandon Gubler, an associate professor of business management. Students should have the equivalent of three to four months of expenditures put aside for emergencies, Gubler said.
It is also important to make sure that your bank records match up with your actual expenses, Housley said. This is why students should balance their checkbooks. Not only does it keep track of what you spend, but you can also avoid being overcharged by your bank and monitor for fraudulent charges on your own.
Overdraft fees and other bank and institution fees are high, Gubler said, so he recommends balancing your records at least once a week. Even if you don’t have a checkbook, you can create a spreadsheet or find one online. Gubler said it is important to record expenditures immediately to make sure you don’t spend more than what you’re bringing in. Compare your expenses spreadsheet against your budget plan, and if they don’t align, make changes and get yourself back on track for the next week.
The next step is to determine needs versus wants. While those may seem obvious, it is beneficial to have a set list of needs to differentiate them from non-essential purchases.
Gubler recommends reviewing your budget with a trusted adviser. This person could be a close friend, parent or spouse, anyone who will give honest feedback about your budget and help determine needs and wants. Having an adviser will help to ensure you stick to your budget month to month.
Housley said she has found eating out is the biggest area of difficulty for students to resist.
“It’s just so much more convenient,” she said. “They’re away from home, and mom’s not cooking for them anymore.”
But frivolous dining adds up. Housley encourages students to come up with a budget and plan out meals or a cooking schedule with roommates. Even eating off the value menu when you go out helps save money, she said.
Mckayla Primm, a freshman nursing major from Magna, said that she records her monthly expenses and spending on an Excel spreadsheet. Each time Primm wants to go out to eat, she looks at the spreadsheet beforehand so she knows how much she can spend; however, Primm said she tries not to eat out too often and instead, buys groceries and cooks at home. Primm and her fiancé make grocery lists to ensure they only buy the necessities.
“We never go to the grocery store hungry,” she said.
She also buys in bulk to save money. Not only is it a better deal when you buy in bulk, but you don’t have to go to the store as often, and you can avoid the temptation to make unnecessary purchases.
It matters which grocery store you choose to shop at, Housley said. She has noticed there are big differences in price between groceries stores around town, so it is important to make sure you are shopping at the one that is most economical. Housley said she personally likes Lin’s Marketplace because of the sales it offers.
“Wal-Mart is always good too,” Housley said. “My only problem with Wal-Mart is sometimes I buy things that I don’t need there because they sell so many things that aren’t just groceries. So if you’re a person that does that you might want to choose a [different] store… Know yourself and how you do things.”
Housley recommends comparison shopping and researching different prices and reviews before you buy. This helps to avoid impulse buying and is important when looking to purchase higher priced items.
“My theory in life is when you want something that’s a higher priced item, you always go look, leave for 24 hours, and then if you still think you need it and that’s the best place to get it, then go buy it,” Housley said.
Students can look at coupons, shop sales and use rebate websites to save and make money while they shop. Websites such as Ebates.com and Swagbucks.com give you cash back or credits when you shop at certain online retailers. There are also free apps that offer cash back as well. Ibotta and Checkout51 are a few apps students can use. Coupons can be found online or in your mailbox.
Primm said she likes to look at coupons she gets through the mail.
Another resource offered to DSU students is the Starving Student Card. The card is sold for $25 at the campus bookstore and gives students a variety of discounts and free items at restaurants, retail stores and other services.
Saving money and budgeting in your college years is critical to developing financial discipline for your future, Gubler said. If you adopt positive habits now, you will have a much easier time paying bills when you move into your professional and family life.
“They will have much more peace of mind if they know they’re within a budget and saving,” Gubler said. “Life will be much happier for them. Once they discipline themselves to do it and they experience the peace that comes from doing it, they’ll want to do it.”