It happens to the best of us. It’s your first semester at college, and reveling in your new found freedom, you’ve suddenly blown all your money on gummy bears and Dr. Pepper. This is super fun in the moment, until about halfway through the semester when you’re out of cash and begging your parents for help. This is the part when you fall on your knees, tears streaming down your face, thunder and lightning flashing around you, as you cry out to the gods wondering why you didn’t manage your money better.
That being said, here are some budgeting tips that will save your life your first semester.
1. Don’t spend too much money on food, no matter how badly you want to.
Most colleges have a first year meal plan for a reason. Usually you get a certain amount of meals or spending money per week, which is more than enough to keep your stomach full–unless you’re like a 200-pound football player.
The best way to keep your spending low your first year is to avoid buying food outside of your meal plan. Obviously there are going to be times when you and your friends go out to dinner or you might need to stock up on your favorite snack from the grocery store. Just be mindful of your budget, and try not to order too many late night pizzas because money goes fast.
Use your meal plan money first and hold on to your savings for special occasion food!
2. Get a part time job and start saving.
Freshmen year is a breeze! The class load is easy, your responsibilities are at a minimum, and there’s infinitely less stress about your post-graduation plans. That being said, you’ll definitely have some free time in your schedule that you won’t find during later years of college, which makes your first semester the perfect time to get a part time job and start saving.
For many freshmen there are on-campus job opportunities in dining or housing, and you’ll find that most people will be very accommodating to your class schedule. Working 2-3 days per week will help you put away some money for when you want to take a fun spring break vacation or for when you finally have to start paying your own rent (yikes).
We know this may not sound like the most exciting plan, because working–yuck! But trust us, you’ll thank us later when your wallet is comfortably full and you have the money to actually have a life.
3. Carpool everywhere or take the bus. We mean it!
In college, your money generally goes to food and transportation depending on what city you’re living in, but your freshmen year will require minimal transportation since most of you will be living on campus. However, there will still be times when you venture downtown for a night, take a weekend road trip, or pay a visit home and gas money will start add up the more you go out.
To avoid blowing all your money on gas, try to carpool with your friends whenever you go for the night, or even better, take the bus! Public transportation is cheap (sometimes even free for college students) and allows you to really learn how to navigate your city.
If you decide to head to your hometown for the weekend, post on your college’s Facebook page and see if there is ride-share or carpool option available so that you and some other students can split the cost of gas. Plus, saving money while making new friends would be pretty sweet.
4. Take advantage of student discounts.
If you’re living in a college town, there are bound to be tons of businesses that have student discounts. Most movie theaters or places for recreational activity (paint-balling, rec centers, pools) all have students discounts available, and over time these discounts can save you huge chunks of money.
There are also apps available like Pocket Points and Coupon Sherpa which are designed to provide student discounts. Make sure to check these apps to see if your college is participating!
5. Set a strict spending limit for each month.
Actually financial budgeting is the hard, nitty-gritty part of keeping your spending low. Let’s be honest, during our first semester of college we have no idea what budgeting even means! To make it simple, we’ve come up with a fun way to calculate your own monthly allowance.
The first step is to invest in four or five trendy mason jars and to decorate them to match your dorm room. Next, take stock of what you have in your checkings and savings accounts, and figure out roughly how much money you would be willing to spend this month. Label each mason jar with the category of spending, such as food, transportation, fun things, and Netflix money. These categories can change depending on where your money usually goes. Next, withdraw your cash for the month, and keep it in your cute, hipster mason jars. Once the cash is gone–it’s gone! No more until the next month!
Basically, this really simple budgeting plan will help you be more financially aware of how quickly you’re using your money, and hopefully you can be smart about your spending.
Godspeed freshmen, may your wallets be full and your grades be high!