One of the areas where college students tend to face major challenges is that of personal financial management. On account of being unable to manage their finances well, many college students keep on finding themselves in serious hardship from time to time. Sometimes it goes to the extent of having difficulty affording books — and even food! In the worst case scenarios, we actually see students dropping out of college altogether, on account of being unable to manage their finances well…
Thankfully, there are certain tools that college students can use to get a better grip on their finances. The most effective of those tools is (arguably) the good old budget. Here are some tips to help you in the budgeting process if you are a college student:
1. Be realistic in your allocations
First of all, you have to figure out how much money you actually have and how much money you are expecting to get from various sources. Whether it is the funds you will be getting from your student loan, any scholarships that you are benefiting from, any funds that you are getting from home, any earnings from part-time jobs… just have a very clear picture of your income. Try to work with real figures as opposed to approximations. Then you need to figure out what your expenses are, and ensure that you have a comprehensive picture of the same. Carefully allocate the money you are getting to the respective expense categories, prioritizing essential expenses over non-essentials. Just be sure that the amounts you allocate are realistic. Otherwise you will find yourself having to raid money allocated for certain things to cater for other things, and your budget will ultimately flop.
2. Create the budget in good time
This is a question of seeing to it that you create the budget as soon as you get the money. That is as opposed to what many college students do – where they first go on spending sprees, and only create a budget after having spending a considerable portion.
3. Commit to actually stick to the budgets
It is important for you, right at the outset, to make a mental commitment to stick to the budgets you make. Even if it means subjecting yourself to certain inconveniences. There is no point in creating a budget, if you have no commitment to stick to it. The challenge that many college students face is not in terms of being unable to create budgets. Rather, it is in terms of being able to stick to budgets. So they create excellent, detailed budgets — then they fail to stick to them! Or they stick to the budgets for a few days, before losing focus… You can avoid this pitfall by making a mental commitment (right from the outset) to stick to the budget you create, no matter what. Sticking to a budget is not always easy. Temptations to make impulse purchases abound. But if you make a strong mental commitment to stick to the budgets you create, the whole thing tends to be much easier.
4. Track your expenses
After creating a budget, the next important thing is to ensure that you carefully track each and every expense you incur, in order to ensure that you are actually adhering to the budget. So before incurring any expense, you try to figure out what budget category it belongs to. And after incurring the expense, you figure out how much money is remaining in that expense category. Then you try to ensure that you don’t go beyond the amounts you had set up for the various categories. That is the ABC of budget implementation.
5.Make some savings for emergencies
The fact that you are a student doesn’t make you exempt from financial emergencies. It is therefore important for you to ensure that you allocate some money to emergency savings in every budget you come up with. You then need to ensure that you don’t raid those emergency savings to cover gaps that arise in other areas of your budget. If the period you had budgeted for ends without an emergency arising, you can roll over the emergency savings to the next budget period. This would mean that during the next budget period, you don’t have to budget for emergency savings. The money that would have gone into emergency savings can then be spent on other things. Alternatively, in the next budget period, you can still make an allocation for emergency savings: meaning that your emergency savings fund would have grown in size.
6. Make some savings for financial goals
The fact that you are a student doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have financial goals. On the contrary, you need to identify some worthwhile, realistic financial goals to work towards. Then make a point of allocating money towards those goals in every budget you create. Having some financial goals that you are working towards gives you a reason to stick to your budget. It is a strong motivator. In the absence of some financial goals that you are working towards, you are likely to find yourself often wondering what the point of creating and stick to the budgets is. So what sorts of financial goals can a student set? Well, you may, for instance, set a target of having X amount of money saved up by the time you graduate from college (to help you get started in life out there). Or you can set a goal to buy yourself a car or to start some sort of business… So you just set up the goal. Then you ensure that, in every budget you create, you allocate some money towards the said goal.
7. Consider using a budgeting app
If the process of manually creating and tracking a budget feels like too much work, you can consider using a budgeting app. A budgeting app makes the budget-creation process easier — by giving you expense and income categories which you then only need to feed figures into, in order to come up with budgets. And if you link it to your bank accounts and credit cards, it can help you in real-time expense tracking. There are certain budgeting apps that are created specifically with students in mind, and you can consider using one of those.