Student Survival Guide: Keeping a Budget

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We’ve all been there. Getting $50 worth of Domino’s delivered because you’ve had a long day and want to pig out? Blowing another $50 on a night at George Street because it’s Friday and hey, what else would you be doing? Getting a delicious, hot fudge sundae from Dairy Queen in the middle of the day every day because it’s just. Right. There.

Oh, the life of a university student is not always a budget-friendly one.

But budget we must, because the life of a university student is generally, to be candid, a broke one. Being a student usually means working part-time, mostly on minimum wage, while trying to balance rent, food, tuition and having a life. It’s not the ideal situation. What follows is The Muse’s guide to battling the broke college life.

1. Confront your bank account

Let’s face it, money is a difficult topic. It’s personal, vulnerable and there can be a lot of shame around not being in a good financial position. However, the longer we ignore it, the worse it gets. By forcing ourselves to confront our bank account, and hopefully doing it with some self-compassion and the knowledge that a lot of students are in the same position as we are, we’ll be able to do something about it.

2. Track your money

You know that feeling, when you’re pretty sure you’ve got at least $200 in your account only to find out you can’t pay for your Thai Express meal? No? Well, it’s a common problem – I swear! One of my the most useful things we can do once we’ve confronted our bank account is to know where our money is going. Until then – it’s easy to feel like we have no control over our bank account.

Even if it’s hard to stop ourselves from spending money on things we think we need, we should at least be aware of how much we’re spending. One useful way of doing it is to have a spreadsheet of where the money’s been going in the last couple of months, just so we know what we’re spending on and how much – often without realising it! Some people even claim that just tracking our money helps us spend less, because we’re more aware of how much we’re spending.

You can do this by having a spreadsheet, writing down your spending every day or week, or downloading an app like WellSpent.

3. Ah, budgeting

If you’ve made it to the third step – congratulations! Even if you’re still having trouble trying to get a hold of your finances, you’re reading this article – which means you care enough to maybe try, and that’s an amazing first step! The other first step of budgeting? Know why you’re doing it.

Without having a purpose for it, budgeting just means having less nice things for no reason. So why do we budget? It could be to have an emergency fund – having that peace of mind that if something were to come up, we would be okay. Or to save up for a trip or conference that we really want to go to, or to buy a car, to care for a loved one, or even to invest – but that’s a whole ‘nother topic.

The next step is to look at where we can cut down on expenses. This is where our handy-dandy tracking spreadsheet/book/app comes in. Are we spending too much eating out and need to stay in and cook more? Are we buying a drink every time we have a bad day? Are we spending too much on clothes, only wearing half of it? How can we make space in our budget to save for the things that are important to us?

4. Don’t be too hard on yourself

Life can be difficult and tiring, and it can be easy to spend money on things that make us feel better in the moment, but may not benefit us in the long run. We shouldn’t restrict ourselves too much, but we also need to be able to have a certain level of self-control – and it’s certainly a fine balance. When we end up having that $50 night out because we’ve had a bad week, we needn’t be too hard on ourselves.

Expect to go beyond your budget sometimes, and expect to make mistakes. We’re all human, and that’s part of the process. All it matters is that we’re trying.