In college, students sometimes find out the hard way what it means to be responsible. For the first time, Mom and Dad aren't there making sure you're doing your homework and attending classes, and it's up to you to decide whether to go to the beach or work on a research project. You're also faced with new financial decisions, some of which can end in disaster if you're not careful.
Many inexperienced students find themselves in a financial bind because of careless spending, made worse when they discover the parentals aren't as willing to bail them out as they used to be. And then what? On their own for the first time, they're broke and they can't quite figure out how it happened.
Let Mom and Dad see what a responsible and mature young adult you are when you follow our tips for creating a budget.
- Consider expenses. This includes regular bills like rent, water, electric, cable, internet, phone, car payments and insurance, gas, food, and beverages. Be realistic with your estimations and round up a bit even. For instance, if you initially think you spend $60 on food each week, round that up to $100 which will more accurately include spending on groceries and going out to eat. Factor in miscellaneous bills like getting your hair cut, having the oil changed in your car, buying smokes, paying for parking, or replacing your stolen bike.
- Consider income. This includes your regular paying job (if you have one) and any odd jobs you might pick up like a paying music gig or a babysitting job. Don't forget to take into account days that you might not be able to work because of illness, or events that conflict with your work schedule, such as time off for a paper you forgot about or a band that you want to see. You can also include supplemental funds that people might give you, like a monthly allowance deposited in your bank account by your parents. Unlike with your expenditures, you should be conservative with this estimate and round numbers down.
- Start saving. Subtract your monthly bills from how much you have left and from that number, take 10 percent and put it into a savings account. Sure, savings ... why the hell do you need a savings account in college? A savings account can literally save your ass when it comes time to start paying back loans, or your car breaks down, or when your friends plan a last-minute trip to Cabo. On top of that 10 percent, a savings account can be created at home by storing and collecting any change you have at the end of each day. City Paper intern Liz Robinson has been scrounging her change together for the last three months and already has over $125 — well on her way to buying a state-of-the-art Star Wars light saber.
- Avoid unnecessary fees. Every time you make a financial transaction, get a receipt. At the end of the day, make a note of what you have spent and reevaluate how much you have left in your account. Avoid expensive overdraft fees. Get in the habit of utilizing your online banking service to compare your receipts to your account activity. Check for any bogus charges or discrepancies.
- Get a transaction notebook and keep track of how you're spending your money. After looking over a week's worth of receipts you might find that you are spending most of your money on booze, cigs, snacks, and CDs — causing you to be flat broke by Wednesday. It should be clear what you need to do. Challenge yourself to spend half of that the following week and see where that leaves you.
Check out Yahoo!'s Personal Finance website www.quote.yahoo.com for information on savings, debt management, credit cards, and credit reports.