What are ways to draw up a college budget and spending within means?

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Answered by: Fagjun, An Expert in the College Life - General Category
Times are tough. Living decently while paying for a college education is harder nowadays than it was in the past. Drawing up a college budget and spending within your means may prove to be difficult. Here are five simple ways to get through college with minimum debt—and minimum stress.

1. Plan ahead

One way to stretch a budget is to plan your spending out carefully. Create a budget for an entire semester, or at least a budget for an entire month. Try to anticipate your expenses and remember to be realistic about it. Cover all your basics—rent, meals, bills, tuition. Whether you’re working three jobs to pay for your own education or mom and dad are taking out a second mortgage to pay for college, you’d do well to spend wisely. Talk to your parents about what they’re willing to spend on, if they’re going to still give you an allowance, or if you’re pretty much on your own.

Make sure to stick to the budget you drew up. If unexpected expenses come up, make sure they’re necessary. To be on the safe side, plan for an entertainment budget. This could include nights out on the town, going to the movies, and maybe even wardrobe expenses.

2. Determine a day-to-day spending limit

This depends on how well you lay out your long-term budget. If you plan out your budget for a particular period of time, like a month or a semester, you can work out how much you can spend each day. Try to leave a little room for unexpected expenses, but not too much. Eventually, you could work out a scheme which would enable you to save a little extra money up for a great weekend. However, remember to avoid going over your daily budget. Learn to discriminate wants and needs.

It’s always a great idea to get roommates. It may be difficult at first to share a space with other people, but it’s better in the long run. You can all chip in on rent, bills, and your meals. You don’t have to spend on all the necessary appliances because one your roommates will probably be bringing a microwave or a pressure cooker.

It’s also a good idea to get a place close to campus. For this you might need to get into the real estate market earlier than enrollment, when properties aren’t too much on demand and you can have your pickings of good flats or houses. Also, this saves a lot of gas money. It’s a good idea leave your car behind and invest on a good bicycle. If you live close enough, you can walk to your classes. If, however, you’re lucky enough to have enough room in your budget for gas, repairs, and maintenance, then by all means keep a car. However, it saves a lot more time and money to stick to public transportation.

3. Save living the high life for later

Yes, college is supposed to be fun. But it’s not supposed to plunge you into financial ruin before you turn 25. Live well within your means. College admits all types, so you will probably make friends with people who are financially better off. Don’t try to keep up with their lifestyles (unless they’re willing to pay for your overpriced drinks); there’s time enough for living large, and that time is not now. If you really want that expensive weekend away or that dinner that’s worth three entire meals, you can work out a way to save up for it.

You could get a part-time job, schedule permitting. You’ll have extra spending money that could pay for that trip to the beach, or those really good speakers, or that laptop you’ve always had your eye on. Having a job gives you more spending options, but always be careful. It’s better to save up, open a bank account and let that interest pile up.

4. Be shameless when it comes to discounts

A lot of establishments, especially in university towns, have student discounts which you can avail of as long as you show them a valid student ID. This is a great way to leave a little breathing room in your day-to-day budget. A lot of bars and clubs have a happy hour, that magical time when beers and liquors have their prices slashed. Look into which bars have happy hour and at what time. Capitalize on this; it’s a great way to still have a good time without having to spend too much.

There’s also no shame in clipping coupons. You’ll eat better if you take the time to peruse the newspapers and clip out a couple of coupons that give you discounts on detergent or cake mixes.

5. Avoid racking up debt

Finally, you’d do well to graduate with as little debt as humanly possible. Apply instead for a scholarship or try to take on an extra shift. If you must take out a student loan, as much as possible it should be for tuition and other college expenses. Make this decision after you’ve explored and exhausted all other options. Also, make sure to read and digest the terms and conditions of the loan before signing. Take the interest rate into consideration.

Avoid credit cards. It’s all too easy to tell yourself “just this once” before swiping that plastic to pay for unnecessary expenses. If you’re uncomfortable carrying money around, try opening a debit card account. With a debit card, you only spend as much money as you actually do have in your account. You’re not actually racking up debt.

These simple pointers are just a start. Creating and sticking to a college budget and spending wisely takes time and patience. Stick to your own financial rules, and you'll never go hungry up to graduation.

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