Ever since I was young, whenever my brother and I earned money from cleaning the cars or weeding the yard, we had to deposit a portion into a big “flower money” jug my mom made. Then every year when spring came to town, we would purchase flowers and plants for the garden. I loved the bugs our garden attracted and my brother the worms, so we bought into the system with little resistance. Little did I know this would be my first lesson in managing my finances: to save a little bit of all you earn.
Learning about how to manage your financials can be fun and always rewarding if you make use of the principles. I was lucky enough to inherit the principles from my parents, yet I was left surprised after college graduation. I was never taught these principles in high school; even college took no part in my personal financial education, and I majored in finance! By the time students reach college though, it may be too late.
Some students I knew drank up their money so quick, by the end of the semester they hadn’t the means to eat three meals a day. Some students, after a few months, had to live with their friends in the dorms, since they could no longer afford their rent. I would like to share the one principle that helped me stay financially afloat during college.
If you are fortunate enough to receive financial aid and scholarships, the minute your tuition and fees are paid, your room and board are paid (if staying in the dorms), and your meal plan is paid (if you choose one), the remaining awards will be deposited into your bank account. For freshmen living in the dorms, that lump sum will be going towards your books and supplies. Your other expenses have been budgeted for you by the school (room and board, food).
Let’s say, like I did, you move off campus and get an apartment with your friend as a sophomore. When you get that deposit from the school, it’s going to be a large lump sum that’s supposed to pay for a semester of rent, books, and groceries. Now it’s up to you to spend it responsibly.
Create a monthly budget
The simplest way to do that is create a monthly budget. You know how much money you’ll be receiving from the awards letter and how long the money has to last. So, take that lump sum that’ll go into your account, get a piece of paper, and put it under the heading “revenue.” Below the listed revenues (which would also include a part-time job/work study), create a heading for “monthly expenses,” where you’ll list the expenses discussed throughout this article. Start with the rent, since missing payments on that will put you out on the street. Consider what utilities may cost monthly and add the monthly wireless bill if you purchase that as well. Are you going to split the rent with your roommate and pay every month? Alternatively, you can do what my roommate and I did, and each pay the full amount every other month. Either way, put that amount under the “monthly expenses.” Let’s say you have a car, how much will you spend on gas every month? Do you have an emergency fund set aside in case the car needs a major fix? Perhaps you use public transportation, what does that cost on a monthly basis? Put these monthly amounts under “monthly expenses.”
We can’t forget to account for books and supplies. As a rule of thumb, I had to budget $600 per semester. The great thing about books is that you can find great deals online or students on campus, rather than buying them through the school’s bookstore. What’s worse is when the “required book” for a class isn’t even used by the professor! It may be in your interest to hold off purchasing textbooks until after you had your first day of classes and can ask the professor of its relevance. In most cases, professors will let you know, understanding your plight.
Now let’s delve into the food expenses. There are smart ways and dumb ways to feed and entertain yourself, I’ve done both. Here’s the basic rule: it’s much less expensive to go grocery shopping every week than it will ever be going out to eat. Make a budget and stay committed to it. It won’t kill you to learn how to cook either, in fact your parents will appreciate it.
Determine what you want to spend, turn the weekly into a monthly dollar amount and put it under “monthly expenses.”
At this point, you’ve covered the essentials of your budget (and no, booze does not count as an essential). Total up all the monthly expenses for however long your semester lasts and compare it to the lump sum you’re expecting to receive from the school. If there’s extra left over, that’s great. It means that any additional money left over for entertainment and extra food expenses can be spent without cutting into your “pre-financial award deposit” bank account balance. Otherwise, you will be spending your own money from here on out, and you definitely want to budget this as well. Determine a reasonable amount to be allotted to entertainment and extraneous expenses for the semester. I had to account for Wildcat football tickets, when B.B. King came to perform and Wildcat T-shirts for Christmas gifts. This area can bankrupt some individuals. They decide on a road trip to Vegas for someone’s birthday party, spend money on hotel, food, and entertainment, getting back just in time for class. Since they hadn’t kept a budget, they had no idea how much they dipped into the funds and now to afford rent, they had to live off ramen noodles and bulk cereal!
Be smart, be accountable, and follow a budget. Budget doesn’t sound like an exciting word, but it’s actually a liberating experience. Knowing your spending plans in the future will leave you the freedom to enjoy college without stressing about paying rent or wondering if Sunday at the pub will leave you in financial ruin.
• Ahwatukee resident Armani Del Franco, a graduate of the University of Arizona, is owner of Silverback College Planning LLC. Reach him at (602) 930-8060 or firstname.lastname@example.org.