Shelling out for pizza might seem cheap, but if you keep a spending diary you'll know for sure. / Thinkstock
Structures like an envelope system and spending diary create ways to curb spending.
The good news: there’s no time like the present to start getting into healthy spending habits and paying attention to your bank account right here, right now. The bad news? With an abundance of options to spend, spend, spend on campus, college life can become a ripe environment for negative cash flow.
[tags="higher-education" limit=5] But it doesn’t have to become your story. There are several strategies to get a hold of your finances as a student. If your hall mates order out every night and you can’t afford to do the same, Stacy Francis, president and CEO of Francis Financial, suggests bringing your own food to those dorm dinners. “If anyone asks,” she says, “let them know that you are saving up for a special trip or purchase.”
Financial savviness shouldn’t be something to be embarrassed about. Instead, she indicates it’s something to be proud of. What’s not to be proud of? Digging yourself out of debt because you were so focused on fitting in.
Jill Bierne Davi, founder of Abundant Finances, also notes the invisible force of peer pressure. If you decide to participate in take-out, limit it to once a week or get something small instead of an entrée. “Or invite your friends to split a dish with you to cut the costs in half,” she says.
Just like getting into the habit of passing up that second slice of cheesecake (or not having the first one to begin with), watching your wallet entails getting accustomed to healthy behavior by resisting temptations. Bierne Davi mentions, “Whatever habits they form now they'll take with them once they leave but on a bigger scale.”
One habit is a spending diary. Francis says this is particularly helpful when you start tracking expenses to create a budget. It’s just what you think it is: Track everything you spend and then analyze the month. Francis advises, “Review your spending patterns and figure out where you could cut costs and where you can afford more leeway.” Seeing how much money’s being spent on restaurants, clothes and other items could be surprising. Francis says “having a big picture view of how you spend is very effective and necessary.”
Plus, you can always kick it old school. Francis suggests the envelope system. At the beginning of every month, make a budget and put specific amounts of money into envelopes that you’ve allotted for various categories like clothing, dining out and entertainment. As soon as the envelope is empty, it’s lights out for that category. If you budgeted $200 for groceries and only use that envelope of cash for the supermarket, as soon as that $200 has whittled away, you can’t spend more on groceries that month.
If envelopes get depleted pretty quickly, Bierne Davi suggests reaching out for help. “Bad habits tend to grow in the dark. Open up to someone who you trust who is better at taking care of their finances.” Sometimes just seeing all of your numbers in place can help you get back on track.
Francis adds, “With student loan debt averaging close to $30K per student, it is now more than ever important that students get their arms around their finances.”
Tips to watch your Benjamins on campus:
1. Utilize your pre-paid meal plan. 2. Use cash for everything. 3. Buy used books. 4. Stock up on groceries and snacks when you’re home. 5. Suggest less expensive ways to hang out with friends like working out instead of going to the mall.