Welcome to Liz’s Lemonade Stand, where the lemons of life are twisted into the sweetest lemonade.

By now, the topic of employment has practically become a theme in my posts, and that trend isn’t about to end today! As I’ve been gearing up for school to start, I’ve been freaking out over my personal finances.

Once upon a time, I had a nice sum saved away in my bank account, but I forgot to take into account a few major expenses I’d have before school even started. First off, I’m not taking my car to school, so I needed to buy a new bike, as I’ve been using my dad’s road bike for the past year. I could have easily settled for a simple mountain bike from a yard sale or thrift store, but if there’s anything that my dad has taught me, it’s that you get what you pay for. Also, the competitive athlete in me wanted a really nice bike–a quality road bike to cross train with as well as get me around campus. I found the perfect road bike, but my savings account took quite a hit.

This major purchase combined with buying things for my dorm, car repairs, and my senior trip have left me with considerably less in the bank than I had anticipated. Since I am on my college’s cross country team, I’m holding off on getting a job at least until the season is over. I’m terribly afraid that I’ll run out of money because I’ve become so accustomed to having a steady (and disposable) income, so it’s about time I put to use the budgeting skills I (sort of) learned in the graduation requirement of financial literacy.

The Lemon: You’re going to be the proverbial broke college student.

The Lemonade: Fear not! With a bit of book keeping and living within your means, you will be living quite comfortably.

  • First things first, budget realistically. Optimistically underestimating costs are not going to make things any cheaper. Financial independence is kind of a big deal, and for many freshmen, it’s a totally new experience. You may not think that treating yourself to an elaborate latte a few times a week is going to put a dent in your wallet, but you’d be surprised at how quickly a few $4 charges add up. Make it a regular habit, and you’re burning money: say you get a $4 latte three days a week for the majority of the semester. That’s nearly $200 in sugared caffeine that you could be saving (unless you’ve planned this unto your budget). To save mega dollars, just make coffee in your dorm (if you’re allowed to) or make a trip to the dining hall and take advantage of the meal plan you were most likely required to buy.
  • This segues nicely to point number two: maximizing your meal plan. If you have a meal plan that gives you three meals a day and you consistently eat off campus for one of those, you are cheating yourself and losing money. Eating out is fun and a good way to mix up the dining hall fare, but be cautious not to over do it.
  • And now, textbooks. I won’t spend too much time here, as you probably already got the spiel at Orientation. Look for them used, rent them, see if an older edition is acceptable, sell them back at the end of the semester.
  • Beware credit card companies preying on unknowing freshmen. You do not need a credit card. Chances are, you’ve got enough debt racking up just because of tuition. Embrace the beauty that is the debit card, and ignore all of the glitzy offers from the credit card companies. The philosophy is simple: you can’t spend what you don’t have.
  • If you’re living on campus, limit trips home. You’ll save on gas and other travel expenses. Also, consider leaving your car behind. Grab a bike and master the shuttle routes and you’re good to go! Don’t let the hassle of gas and insurance and car maintenance hound you. Use that money to have some fun.
  • Use your student ID for discounts anywhere and everywhere. There is no shame is trying to save a few dollars. Just ask if Store X gives discounts to students from the local University Y. The worst that can happen is that they don’t give students a discount. Your ID card will also come in handy for free access to a wide variety of activities on campus; make sure you explore what your school offers.

The biggest favor you’ll do yourself is to take this list into account and create a well-structured budget from it. Once you’ve made your beautiful budget, stick to it! Think of it as practice for the “real world,” or life after graduation. Happy budgeting, everyone!

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the author

Liz Winters is a freshman at Utah State University. She graduated from high school as a full IB Diploma Candidate. Now a member of USU's cross country and track teams, she is as busy and happy as ever. When she’s not running around her college town of Logan, Utah or up a mountain, chances are pretty good she’s either eating peanut butter or playing the flute. You’ll never catch Liz without her water bottle, though she is quite the tea and coffee aficionado (fair trade certified preferred!). Liz has a terminal case of wanderlust, fueled by plans to minor in French. A granola girl at heart, she's planning on majoring in Conservation and Restoration Ecology. Sustainability has blossomed into passion for the planet, and this translates into a love for learning and spreading the sustainable spirit. Liz still doesn't know what she wants to do when she "grows up," but that's just fine because the adventure is all in the journey!

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