If you’ve spent your high school years blissfully unaware of your bank account balance and completely at the mercy of your parents’ spending habits, then I won’t lie to you: the transition to having more or less full autonomy over your finances in college is a bumpy one.
Now, there’s no reason to panic – getting ahold of your finances while you’re starting college is way better than waiting until you’re completely on your own to figure out your spending habits. Just because you didn’t get the earliest financial start doesn’t mean you’re doomed to make horrible decisions about money for the rest of your college days – because The Prospect has your back.
When you’re making a big financial transition, don’t try to change your spending habits too drastically right away. It’s easy enough to say on move-in day, “I’ll never spend money on Starbucks ever again for as long as I live!”, but trust me, you’ll hear the coffee shop’s siren call within a handful of days. Trying to quit your daily dose of designer caffeine cold turkey will inevitably end with you inside your luxe café of choice more often than before. Instead, try limiting yourself to one or two excursions to your local coffee shop a week. And if your budget is too tight for that, you can start decreasing that number any time, but you have to learn that restraint gradually to prevent bigger spending slip-ups.
The same advice extends to those of you who are facing the possibility of a semester without shopping for clothes, shoes, video games – whatever your guilty pleasure purchase may be. First, try unsubscribing from your favorite stores’ email newsletters; all they do is feed your desire to buy things you know you don’t need, and you’re better off without them. Unfollow them on social media too; “out of sight, out of mind” is a very real thing when it comes to your spending psychology. From there on out, try to limit your spending to only what you absolutely love, not just what you vaguely like. And most importantly: don’t tell yourself, “Well, I just won’t spend money on anything ever,” because that’s a relapse waiting to happen.
So don’t beat yourself up for buying that great neutral cardigan from your local boutique – if you love it and know you’ll get plenty of use out of it, buy it! You just might want to consider putting the trendy chartreuse blouse back on the hanger. And if you’ve been waiting ages specifically for the next FIFA game, don’t be afraid to treat yourself; however, leave any games you only think you might like on the shelf (after mentally adding it to your Christmas list, if that’s thing you’re family still goes in for).
Whether it’s Halloween around the corner or your Greek organization’s next date function, you’re going to need to acquire some silly costumes eventually – after all, these are your college years, and there’s no need to swear off any and all fun just to keep your wallet packed. That being said, you don’t exactly want to go broke for the entire semester by blowing $400 on an exact replica of the Eleventh Doctor’s coat from ThinkGeek (no matter how tempting that genuine purple tweed is). So when it comes to your college party wear, get creative! I, and many sorority girls like myself, swear by thrift shopping to create the bulk of your costume closet.
While we’re all familiar with the elusive temptress of ModCloth, know that you really don’t need to drop $80 on one of its dresses to look like an absolutely killer Joan Holloway – a trip to your local thrift store will provide plenty of frocks, faux pearls, and brooches (and your nearest party store will provide the essential red wig and fake cigarettes). And creativity goes beyond being choosy about where you shop – Pinterest provides DIYs for costume accessories galore, so while this gorgeous pen necklace from 1928 seems like the perfect accent to your aforementioned Mad Men attire, why not try crafting your own instead and putting the $20 you saved towards your textbooks for next semester?
You can also save money (without making a huge lifestyle change) by getting creative in the kitchen. You don’t need to be making gourmet dishes in your apartment kitchen on the regular a la Chopped, but knowing how to make a few easy, delicious meals and desserts – lasagna, a stack of blueberry pancakes, a sheet of brownies – could save you from regularly splurging on fancy dinners, brunches, and café pastries in a desperate attempt to escape your university dining hall. And no need to invest in a swanky cookbook, since the internet is full of amazing recipes just waiting for you to discover. You also might consider investing in a personal coffeemaker or getting the hang of a French press to even further cut down on your café purchases. Just remember: you don’t need to live like a Spartan to keep your savings account in check; you just need a little ingenuity.
Watch out for the little things.
While you’re in the process of taking over your own money management, I’d argue that the spending trap that presents the most danger to you actually consists of your smallest purchases. It sounds silly at first, but while you would never think of dropping $100 at your local drugstore in one trip, you could easily spend that much in two weeks just by stopping in regularly for things you don’t really need. Little purchases have a way of sneaking up on you so that things like in-between-class snacks, cheap accessories, and even your metro fare (if you live on an urban campus) add up to a surprisingly large amount of cash over the course of a month or two.
And it makes sense; we college students, as the whole, tend to be wary of making what we deem large purchases. We figure that while a $200 camera would certainly be an awesome thing to have, we’d need a pretty strong reason to actually make that purchase; however, we can easily spend $200 over the course of a few months on frivolous little things that we don’t care about very much. So pay attention to your receipts, no matter how small you think the total is: it all adds up.
Get to work.
Have a look at your schedule of classes and extracurriculars for this upcoming semester, and see if there’s any available space for an on-campus job. Besides the usual staples as cashier for the bookstore and barista at the coffee shop, you’d be surprised at the number of employment opportunities at your school where you’re essentially paid to do your homework – usually manning the front desk at the gym, the mailroom, or the key room. Don’t be afraid to ask around for low-pressure jobs that might help make your college lifestyle a little cozier.
If regular, daytime on-campus employment doesn’t seem like it will fit into your packed schedule, do a little investigating for odd jobs that need doing around your university. Check out what the babysitting scene around your school is like, or the local bartending/bouncer scene, if you’re of age. You can see if anyone needs lab assistants, research assistants, or in the case of psychology labs, research subjects. There are 1,001 ways to find employment on a college campus. You just have to look around to find them.