From school textbooks and supplies, dining out with friends to that soda from the vending machine, it can be easy to lose track of exactly where your money is going and how long those funds may last you. That’s why it’s important to have a plan for your money. Prioritizing your values and effectively managing your money can help you to reach your financial goals. Here are some tips to help you do that:
Select a tool. Whether it’s a notebook, pencil, or an app on your phone, you need a starting point. If you’re already using online banking, then regularly accessing your electronic bank statement may be a good place to begin. Online banking allows consumers to check their balance, track their income, and monitor their expenses electronically. This can be a great resource for students beginning to develop a spending plan and evaluate their money spending habits.
Select a time period. How long does your current pool of financial resources need to last you? If you’re working while attending classes, it may be helpful to think of your spending plan as a two-week period, or monthly, depending on how often you get paid and when bills are due. If you’re not currently working and don’t anticipate any regular added income, then you may want to break down your spending differently (for instance, short term (by week) or long term (by semester).
Plan your spending. Where do you want your money to go? Identify pre-determined categories for your spending and estimate how much money you will need during the given time period for items like food, entertainment, bills, and travel. If you value social time with friends, then you may want to estimate a larger amount of resources on food/entertainment. Are you trying to save up for the newest gaming system? Then you should start setting some funds aside for that holiday debut.
When estimating your spending plan, begin with your fixed expenses then move on to your variable ones. If you’re responsible for paying your monthly cell phone or Disney+ bill, make sure you set aside enough funds to cover those first. If you have a meal plan, then your food expenses may be minimal. No car on campus? Gas and car maintenance will likely be zero. Be sure to put some funds aside for an emergency and plan for periodic expenses that can mean a big hit to your account balance down the road.
Track Income/expenses. Monitor. Monitor. Monitor. You are the one who makes choices about what to purchase and how much to put away for a rainy day. Keep regular records of your spending and saving habits. Save your receipts and don’t forget to write down even the smallest expenses (yes, that pack of gum from the gas station) as little purchases can add up to large deductions from your account.
Review and evaluate. Now that you have some spending goals in mind, it’s time to see how well you did. Don’t stress out too much in the beginning since the important thought is to create a plan and start using it. Once you have a handle on where your money is going, it will get easier to adapt your habits to meet your financial goals. Continually evaluate how you’re doing and make changes for the next time period. Try limiting your variable expenses (e.g., save eating out for special occasions and use your meal plan or buy your favorite snacks in bulk and avoid the vending machines) and look for ways to increase your earnings (e.g., get an on-campus job, apply for scholarships or start a side hustle).