November 16, 2016
If you find yourself pushing the thought of budgeting your personal finances into the back of your mind, you are not alone. College students deal with so many other pressing issues like paper deadlines, tests, jobs and family obligations. This important piece of the puzzle can quickly become deprioritized when you stack it up against the other obligations in your life.
Part of the challenge here might be related to the fact that budgeting finances can seem daunting and perhaps a little bit boring. Maybe Microsoft Excel is not your friend. Again, you are not alone! There are many tools out there to help simplify the creation of a personal budget and to make it a little more engaging than you'd expect.
Microsoft Excel is an excellent student budget planner tool but if you never gained a knack for using formulas in Excel, that's okay. There are free products out there that do the behind-the-scenes calculations for you. The tool I use is called Mint. This tool helps you establish spending thresholds for many categories on a monthly basis. You can even have a category set aside for haircuts. Take some time to build out an appropriate budget that includes all of those essential things like your rent/mortgage, car payment, groceries, etc.
Once your budget is created, you may be shocked at how much you spend. What's more, some people spend far more money than they make. However, you might be surprised at the wiggle room in your spending habits by making a few small changes.
You've heard it before and I'm going to say it again now: A daily run to a coffee shop or eating at restaurants several times a week can cost hundreds of dollars a year. Those are easy fixes that can have huge impacts to your budget. Imagine only going to a coffee shop once a week and making coffee at home the rest of the week. Depending on your drink of choice that could save you $15 a week. Fifteen dollars/week X 52 weeks in a year = $780/year. We're talking substantial savings there. That amount could cover a nice portion of tuition for you, thus resulting in $780 less in student loans you'd need to borrow that year.
The best part about creating a budget and living a little frugally during your college years is that the money you save can be put towards the cost of your tuition, books, making payments on student loans you've already borrowed and many other things that thousands of students everyday use student loans to pay for. Remember, student loans are not the only option to pay for tuition. Creative budgeting and changes in spending habits can free up some sizable cash-pay options for you that lessens that student loan debt that you may carry for decades to come.
Once you have invested the time into creating a budget that works for you, you will see very clearly how much you spend in life. You will soon begin to think of ways to control your frivolous spending and eventually you will be able to contribute that saved money towards one of the most important investments you will ever make: Your education.
Jeremy Brannan is an assistant vice president of Student Financial Services at Southern New Hampshire University.
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