Three budgeting tips for college students looking to save some coin

For most people, college is the first time to really experience being completely independent. Not only are students responsible for showing up to class on time, balancing work and play and getting enough sleep, but they have to keep track of their finances as well. 

From tuition, to rent, food, coffee and other miscellaneous expenses, it can be pretty daunting to keep track of where each dollar is going. Here are some tips from a fellow college student to help with budgeting while in college. 

 Record and organize your expenses

You can’t really start a budget until you know how much money you’re spending, how often and what you’re spending that money on — so start by recording and organizing your expenses. You can do this manually by starting a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, take an old school approach and keep track of your expenses on paper, or you can use a budgeting app. 

There are a variety of budgeting apps available and each one is different depending on your needs and what you want to accomplish. One of the most popular, is Mint

Mint is described as a budgeting app to help you “save more and spend less.” Mint automatically categorizes transactions to provide a clear picture of how you’re spending money in real time. You can also add your own expense categories, track your bills and set up budgets in the app that will send you alerts when you’re exceeding your spending threshold.

It’s also important to allocate a miscellaneous category in your budget. This can be where you put extra funds after you’ve paid for all your necessities. You can save this “miscellaneous” money for emergencies or it can serve as an allowance for you to have some extra cash to treat yourself after a long week. 

Also, be sure to review your budget often. Life is unpredictable, and your financial situation could change at any given moment. Make sure you keep track of any potential changes so you can adjust your budget accordingly.

Differentiate between needs and wants

This may be easier said than done, but it’s an important money saving tip to follow. You may be out shopping with friends and see a nice shirt you really want to buy. It’s only $15, so why not, right? But you may need that extra $15 for groceries that week, or maybe you need to put that money towards gas or a textbook. 

 You can use your organized budget from the first tip to go through your expenses and prioritize what you absolutely need, while keeping that miscellaneous category in mind to account for your wants. 

While it’s important to be able to rationalize your expenses and differentiate between needs and wants, avoid depriving yourself. Sometimes you may have a bad day and sincerely feel like you need to take a study break and go get some ice cream. And while that may not be accounted for in your budget, it’s OK to treat yourself if it’s going to make your day a little better. 

Shop smart

College comes with a lot of expenses. If you set up an organized budget, you’re already in a pretty good spot, but still, some of things you have to buy like textbooks and groceries may still seem way too expensive. That’s why it’s important to be a conscientious shopper. 

For textbooks, if you need to buy them and keep them long term, opt for used books. If you don’t need to buy them, try renting instead and also choose the used option. The University Bookstore and Chegg are both great options for this. 

Following the trend of buying used, you can also opt to thrift for new clothes rather than buying them at bulk retail stores. Not only is thrift shopping more ethical and better for the environment, but it’s significantly cheaper as well. Kent has several thrift stores in town like Goodwill and Einstein’s Attic, but online thrift shopping is an option as well. Sites like ThredUp and even the Facebook Marketplace, provide a spot for people to not only buy, but sell their gently used items as well. 

With groceries, look for coupons and weekly ads to see what’s on sale. It’s also important to practice just buying what you need. According to RTS, an ethical waste management company, the average person wastes about 219 pounds of food per year. With that said, not only are you wasting food when you throw out that unopened bag of salad mix, but you’re wasting money as well.