Calculating the student budget

By Mary McLean, Staff Writer

Published in print Aug. 20, 2014

The start of the new semester always brings familiar sights and sounds to campus.

Professors walk around lugging suitcases full of syllabi, different groups take up the EUC lawn for team building exercises, and there are freshman trying to walk into Mary Foust because they haven’t figured out the difference between the dorm and the administrative building yet. (You’re looking for just plain Foust, little buddies. The one that looks like a castle.)

However, one of the least exciting aspects of Fall 2014 is the looming prospects of the year’s upcoming expenses.

Whether you’re a junior moving into your first off-campus apartment, a senior who just got a new job, or a freshman trying to budget your meal swipes and flex dollars, keeping track of where and how you spend your money can make a big impact in the course of the semester.

It’s easier said than done though, so the Carolinian is here with a few tips and tricks for success.

Do make yourself a budget and stick to it.

Without a budget, a bank account can seem like this amazing, mysterious, wonderful thing that you can use to buy furniture, organic groceries, and those new adorable earrings at Sisters.

Until, that is, your card gets declined during your fifth trip to Whole Foods, you end up over drafting, and you have to beg your friends for ramen to survive the rest of the month.

The good news is that there are a lot of resources for students to avoid this situation. Free budgeting apps and computer software are only a google away.

Mint is an app for your phone or tablet that connects directly to your bank account, keeps track of your spending, and alerts you when you are about to go over budget.

You Need a Budget (YNAB) is professionally created budgeting software that is available for free if you can prove you’re a student.

Even an old fashioned income vs expenses template can work just fine as long as you are keeping track of your money’s comings and goings.

Don’t have your money tied up with friends, roommates, strangers, etc. Are you moving in with your wacky friend who is always late, incredibly spontaneous, and just super duper fun?

For god’s sake sign separate leases.

College students are notorious for making big spending decisions on a whim, especially when it comes to housing.

If you and your friend made drunken plans that you should “OMG totally move in together!” you should definitely do a little more (sober) research on what that would entail before you sign anything.

Likewise, if someone promised you a spot in a house or apartment, get it in writing as soon as possible.

Even if they attend Cru meetings every week and seem as upstanding as can be, don’t just take someone at their word without something to back it up.

A little awkwardness in the present can save you from getting majorly screwed over in the long run.

Do ask your upperclassmen friends for advice on meal planning, budgeting and the fast paced world of coupon cutting.

For those who don’t have much         experience apartment hunting, setting  a budget, or feeding themselves, older friends can be an invaluable tool.

They know which apartment complexes will up your rent and keep your security deposit.

They know how to navigate the grocery store to get the best produce and              the cheapest meat.

They can tell you that if you have $400 in flex, you can spend about $25 per week.

They know which times the cafeteria (caf) is busiest and what days they have the best food. Befriend them. Use them.

They say that wisdom comes only from experience, but this way, you get all the lessons without having to go through the crappy ordeals yourself.

Don’t forget to treat yourself. While following a budget is useful for keeping track of spending and good practice for the post-graduation real world, don’t let it keep you from having fun as well.

You have plenty of time to become the faceless drone the capitalist patriarchy wants you to be, so for now, let loose a little.

Do go to that concert, do spontaneously drive to the beach, do get dressed up and take your significant other out to a really nice meal and do buy that too expensive dress that you’ve been looking at online for two months. Just maybe see if it goes on sale first.

As cheesy as it is, the bottom line is that now is the time for you to make mistakes and screw up, in money matters as well as everything else.

When they do happen, it won’t be the end of the world, but with some simple planning you’ll never make the same mistake twice.

Categories: Features, mary mclean


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