With class and all of your social activities, how can you plan to manage your money? To be financially successful in college it is important to have a plan. Your plan should include whats, wheres, and hows of your life. One of the most important parts of this plan is to lay out your financial strategy. Successfully mapping out your income and carefully identifying your expenses will help you avoid unnecessary debt, as well as keep some money in your pocket.
How much money do you bring in?
Your income can be more than just your paycheck you bring home from work. It could be a financial aid refund, maybe some cash given to you by your family to help cover the cost of college. Remember that monthly income doesn't tell the whole story. You may see a financial aid refund check at the beginning of the semester, and that check could be the majority of your income. If this is the case, you may find mapping out your income on a monthly intake basis may lead to bigger problems. The trick is to think about how long you will go without another financial aid refund. If you get a $1,200 refund check and go to school for 4 months, your refund now turns into $300 a month. Breaking down your income over the period of time you need it to last is the key when planning your finances.
How can I get more money?
Some people need to work while in college to make it through college. Here at UND we have a great resource for students to gain employment right here on campus. To see what is available head to Career Services on the 2nd floor on McCannel Hall, if you can't wait check out their website for current openings. There are also tons of job openings in the community. There are many opportunities throughout the community to strengthen your money management, leadership, time management, and customer service skills.
Since your main goal in college should be getting that diploma in a timely fashion, your work hours need to be controlled. Working part-time in college is a big decision, so it is important to highlight the things you will need out of a job. Things to really think about are how many hours a week can you work, how much income do you really need, and what kind of job would you like. Your stress level plays a role as well; you do not want to work at a job that is on your mind all week. That is why, in college, it is important to not only budget your money, but also budget your time.
How much money do you spend?
Identifying what you spend money on takes some real dedication. One good idea is to write down every time you spend your money, even $0.70 on a snack from the vending machine. When you look at this, you are sure to see something that was unnecessary. To help manage your money, check this <Budget Worksheet> to compare actual and estimated expenses. This comparison will help you see where you are overspending, and may help you save some cash. Another great way to track your money is by creating an account at Mint.com, which will allow you to create an app to track your expenses from your phone. If you make this a habit you will be able to acquire all of the information you need to attack your financial plan head on.
When analyzing your expenses there is one important distinction to make, that is whether the expense is a want or a need. This may not be as cut and dried as you think. Taking your sweetheart to a nice seafood dinner is a want. Your brand new 4G cell phone is also a want. Needs are purchases that cover the things we truly need which are food, water, clothing, and shelter. Wants are luxury items and events that add to the quality of your life.
When should I pay my bills?
Pay your bills before they are due, EVERY TIME. An important thing to do is to isolate when you need to spend your money. As a college student it is important to pay your rent (room and board), tuition, fees, and books first. Skipping these bills may create a situation that is likely to raise stress and hurt your academic performance, could even lead to being kicked out of school. A good strategy for paying bills is to write down when all of these bills are due. Having your bills organized by when they come due will help you manage them.
What does it take?
Once you have identified where you can cut some money out of your expenses it is time for the hard part. Some of these expenses deemed unnecessary may be hard to cut. That candy bar you get out of the vending machine may seem like a tiny expense, but over the course of the year may end up taking over a week of pay. You may have to stand up to peer pressure as well as some inner desire, but the discipline required to stick to your budget will benefit you moving into the future. The easy part is creating a spending plan; the hard part is following it. It takes real willpower and work to make money changes in one's life. If you find yourself struggling with sticking to your plan, check out the 30 Steps to Financial Freedom.
For additional information and tips on maintaining your financial plan check out CashCourse.