3 tricks on how to stay on top of your finances

Sarah is a 2012 graduate of The College of New Jersey, currently pursuing her Master’s in Secondary Education and English to further her aspirations of becoming an English teacher. She is passionate about writing and hopes to someday pass that love onto her future students. A self-described foodie, Sarah also spends her time in the kitchen when she is not reading or writing. She is fluent in three languages and hopes to someday learn French

College is a period of intense organization: in addition to keeping on top of your schedule, coursework, social life, eating habits, and the occasional trip to the gym to stave off that notorious freshman weight, you will have to be mindful of your wallet. While you may decide to hold a job on-campus or off – depending on if you’re lucky enough to have a car – you will still need to manage your cash flow for those nights out with your friends. Practicing good financial habits in college will set you up for success when you graduate, and if you manage your money correctly, you might even leave college with a nice reserve of funds. The following are three steps you can take to ensure your bank balance stays positive throughout your undergraduate career.

 

1. Make a budget. You’re already making spreadsheets and documents for your other classes; why not make one for your finances, as well? Track your spending for one week to see where your money is going. Hang on to your receipts, record any swipes from your debit or credit card, and total any other monthly expenditures you may have, such as rent, car insurance, or any other types of bills. Once you have an idea of your weekly expenses, see first if there is anything you can cut out. Are you buying a quick coffee on your way to class a few times a week? Are you and your friends dining out frequently? (See tip #3). Cut back on at least one of these discretionary expenses, and over time, you’ll see that money come back to you. After you’ve trimmed your unneeded purchases, set aside the amount of money you will need each week as your “needs” money. This money goes to what you identified before as necessary spending. If, after one week, you find that there is money leftover, you can either save it or use it to purchase that coffee you cut out last week. And if you have a job, try to follow the 80/20 rule: 80% of your income should go to your “needs”, while 20% can go to your “wants”. This mindset will help you after college, as budgeting will become a necessity later in life.

 

2. Avoid tempting credit card offers. We’ve all seen them: the credit cards offers that come in shiny, colorful envelopes, promising you 0% interest for the next year if you sign up right now. Misuse of credit cards, however, can send you spiraling into debt before you even graduate, and will not only drain your bank account, it can severely damage your chances of building good credit, something you’ll eventually need to buy a house, take out a loan, or purchase a car. Skip the seeming convenience of a credit card and opt for something less risky. Contact your bank and sign up for a debit card if you don’t have one yet, or ask if they have some type of introductory card. Some banks offer a credit card to customers who have no credit history; in return, you give your bank a type of security deposit, and that amount becomes your credit limit on the card. For example, if you give your bank $500 to open the card, your credit limit would be $500. You get the money back when you close the card, and you will have built up enough credit to apply for a real card.

 

3. Look for less pricey options at restaurants. Let’s face it: most dining hall food is less than desirable, and you will no doubt want to go out with your friends every once in a while. The fact is, restaurant bills can add up, causing a drain in your pocket. Instead of paying full price each time you and your friends venture off campus, look into special offers promoted by the establishments nearby. Some restaurants offer a percentage off of your bill if you come in after a certain hour. Other restaurants will offer a discount on various weekdays, and most likely post coupons either online or in local newspapers. And if your birthday is coming up, see if your favorite nearby restaurant allows you to enjoy half-off or even free food to celebrate! You and your friends will reap all the benefits of good food at half the cost.

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