College is one of the most exciting times in your life. It is also one of the most stressful, overwhelming, ulcer-inducing experiences you can imagine. And if you are like most college students, money is tight and time is limited. Learning to manage your money, however, can help lessen the stress you’ll face as a full-time scholar.
Create a Reasonable Budget
Creating a reasonable budget is one of the keys to surviving when money is tight. If you budget 10 dollars per month on food with plans to eat ramen noodles for all three meals, you will fail. Setting a realistic budget is all about prioritizing and setting attainable goals.
First, budget the fixed expenses like rent, phone, utilities, and savings. Then with the money left over, you can budget for food, gas, clothes and other variables. Re-evaluate your budget every few months so you can keep your goals attainable and budget realistic.
It’s important as a student to not only keep up with schoolwork, but to stay current with financial and investing news. Knowing where to invest what little money you have will not only propel your future earnings, but also help avoid poor financial decisions that may hurt your current monetary needs. Sometimes it’s hard to justify investing your money for the future when that new video game is calling your name, but your future self will thank you later.
Get Some Roommates
Let’s face it: roommates are a pain. There is nothing worse than opening the fridge to find that the leftovers you had saved for lunch have been devoured by a greedy roommate. But when you remind yourself of the hundreds of dollars you are saving in rent, suddenly that two-day old chow mein isn’t such a big deal.
And not all roommates are terrible. If you are lucky enough to choose your roommate, try to find someone who won’t clash with your personality and shares similar living habits. And if you don’t get to pick your roommates, make the best of the situation and keep a screaming pillow handy.
Borrow or Buy Used
You live in a wonderful age of technology that has made borrowing and secondhand living a cultural standard. In fact, sites like Craigslist.com and Freecycle.org open you to a whole community waiting to swap, borrow, and sell anything and everything.
Thrift stores have also become a popular place to shop for clothes and other household items. So don’t think of your secondhand plaid pants as out of style, but vintage. That automatically makes it cool.
Earn Extra Spending Cash
What if that special something you want is out of your budget, and you are sure life will cease to have meaning unless you attain this object? Instead of taking money out of your budget, find some way to pull in a bit of extra cash. Maybe it’s time to admit you aren’t the next Shaun White and sell that old snowboard in your closet.
Or perhaps you have a knack for cooking; you can sell baked goods at local events or peddle them off to sympathetic family and friends. There is always something you can do to bring in that extra green if you are willing to sacrifice time or possessions. And if all else fails maybe the girl down the street will hire you to run her lemonade stand.
The most important thing to living on a budget is probably the hardest thing for people to grasp: learning how to exercise proper self-control. It is difficult to exchange a night at the bar drinking with friends for a night inside with a textbook and can of soup. If you don’t learn how to use self-control now though, you’ll have an even bigger struggle later in life when the temptations come in the form of a new sports car or speedboat.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t treat yourself now and then, just in moderation and make sure you are budgeting your time and money correctly. You can read all the articles on money management available on the internet, but if you don’t have the willpower to carry out the strategies, you will never succeed.
It takes a lot of hard work, tears, curse words, and support to succeed at college on such a tight budget. But once you know the right moves and a few tricks, anyone can do it. And maybe it will help soften the blow when you’re thrust into the real world.
What other tips do you have to survive on a college budget?
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him here and here.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.