Opinion: There’s a better way to be broke in college
By Harley Brown—
Some people describe college as the best four years of their life—four years where you are constantly broke from spending your money on food, textbooks and gas. This freedom from your parents seems great, but don’t you miss their guidance in the slightest? I know I did, especially when it came to managing my money. The idea of being able to budget my money never crossed my mind because my grandma had done it for me my whole life. Needless to say, I was in for a rude awakening when I got to college.
In the second month of my sophomore year at Tarleton State University, I had just moved into my first apartment, bought a car with my summer earnings and joined a sorority. I was in the second week of the month when I slid my debit card at the grocery store only for the cashier to ask me, “Do you have another card? This one keeps getting rejected.”
I immediately started to make a running list in my head of all the things I had recently bought that could cause me to have insufficient funds. Nothing seemed to be adding up. I had just gotten paid and felt confident that I should have enough funds. Luckily, I had another credit card I could use in case of an emergency (thanks, Grandma). However, once I got home, I checked my debit card statements to see where my money had mysteriously disappeared to: food, City Limits, food, Starbucks and… more food. I couldn’t believe how easily my small $7 transactions added up.
There are numerous apps that you can download to your phone that help with budgeting. My personal favorite (and one that helped me tremendously) is Mint. Mint links directly with your bank account or debit card and shows you exactly how much money you have in your account with all your recent transactions. This app also allows you to create a monthly budget for categories such as food and dining, shopping, auto and transportation. After each transaction is made, the app automatically categorizes and subtracts the payment from your account balance and helps you stay within your budget. For instance, if you were to spend $10 at Dominos, the app would automatically filter this transaction to your food category. The best part about it is that it’s free. There are plenty of other user-friendly applications available that assist with budgeting, such as Goodbudget and Daily Budget, but it’s all just a matter of personal preference.
If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your account information and prefer to track your finances on paper, I recommend finding printable budget templates. I found plenty of options on Pinterest that were plain and simple and some that were colorful and detailed. These allow you to have a hard copy of your account balances each month, with room to budget each expense (car payments, water bill, personal costs, and others). Some templates can be customized to choose your own categories to budget for. Pinterest also offers numerous articles on tips and tricks for first-time budgeters.
As a broke college student myself, managing what little money we do have can make a world of difference. So, avoid the embarrassment of card rejections, and take advantage of your free resources. We all know college students love free things.