Most students don‘t have a lot of money, a fact that doesn‘t surprise some. College is often the first time many students are responsible for their own finances.
Working a low-paying job, scraping by and having student loans awaiting after graduation can seem overwhelming. However, students can build better financial habits regardless of income.
Make a budget
Sit down and figure out where money is going. There are fixed expenses that are consistent from month-to-month, such as rent or utility bills. Set aside money for these expenses first, said Kathleen Riggs, an extension professor for Utah State University‘s Cedar City campus.
Next, factor in the expenses that fluctuate.
“Sometimes the flexible ones are the ones that catch people by surprise,” Riggs said. “For example, a cell phone bill might fluctuate. One month it might be $25 and the next $50, depending on how often you‘re on your data plan,” Riggs said.
If the budget isn‘t working, reevaluate
Actually sticking to the budget requires self-discipline, said Chris Skousen, the Associate Department Head for the School of Accountancy at USU.
One reason a budget may not work at first is because it‘s unrealistic.
“One of the first things you have to ask is, ’Do I have a realistic budget? Is it really attainable? Is it practical?‘ It may not be,” Skousen said. “You really need to set up a practical budget that is really within the financial parameters that you have.”
Avoid impulse spending
Paul Owen, a masters of accounting student at Utah State, has a motto: “Just because you can doesn‘t mean you should.”
Owen avoids impulse spending by taking the time to think over purchases.
“Whenever I‘m thinking about buying something, even if sometimes I feel like I really need it, like that‘s the first thing I kind of look at,” Owen said. “I think that‘s the thing that gets the most people, when they can‘t avoid that impulse. Even if it‘s just two minutes, step back from the purchase and kind of analyze, ’Why am I getting this?’”
Consider the long-term
Spending loan money or swiping a credit card may be an enticing short-term option, but it‘s a temptation best avoided due to long-term implications, Riggs said.
“[Students] think, ’The money‘s there. It‘s for me to use,‘ and they just forget,” Riggs said. “There‘s temptations to use any resources you have in ways that are not responsible.”
Saving is satisfying
In a fast-paced world where people get irritated if they wait more than five minutes for a drive-thru hamburger, patience is underutilized. However, delayed gratification via saving for big purchases can be much more satisfying.
“If you‘re taking care of your finances, budgeting and maintaining those, and eliminating that debt that just hangs over your head at all times, it‘s very rewarding to know that, ’Yeah, I budgeted, and now I can splurge,’” Skousen said.
Take advantage of student discounts
College students are in a position to take advantage of various discounted (or even free) events and food.
“I really would encourage the students to take a look at what‘s available with student discounts,” Riggs said. “Those things are there for that reason, to help students enjoy culture and entertainment for less.”
Don‘t forget fun
While bills are important, fun is as well, Owen said.
“If you do make a budget, it‘s always going to fail if you don‘t provide for some fun,” Owen said. “If not, then it‘s no fun and then no one wants to do it because it‘s no fun.”
It‘s worth being financially responsible
Budgeting may seem grueling. However, there is comfort in knowing that there is money to fall back on, should expenses come up, Owen said.
Since finances are the most stressful aspect of a lot of people‘s lives, it‘s worth building good habits now, Skousen said.
“While budgeting can be a pain in the backside, and then maintaining that budget and living within its parameters can be an even bigger pain in the backside, the rewards for considering, thinking about and implementing a financial plan are well worth it,” Skousen said.
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