College is an interesting time, financially speaking, especially for traditional-age students. On the one hand, many first-year students are also first-year money managers. While rent and electric bills aren’t quite in the picture just yet, these students are often hit with the hard reality that they have to pay for things like dinners out, school clothes, and other items which (quite often) their parents footed the bills for. Even laundry comes with a price-tag. In short, there are rude economic awakenings all over the place.
What happens all too often is that students end up strapped for cash; and not all of them have affluent-enough parents who can bail them out. Thus, the endless stories of students existing on Ramen noodles for months on end and never going anywhere after, say, October, because they have no money even for a cup of coffee in the local coffee shop.
However, there is hope. A simple budgetary plan can change all of that. Even before you get to school, it’s time to make a budget for yourself. You’ve probably already handled college-related expenses such as tuition and housing, but daily living expenses often get swept under the rug and ignored, the assumption being that somehow they will get “taken care of.” With a simple budget, you can take care of them yourself.
First, you need to make a list of all of the things you need to take care of, both in terms of your living situation and in terms of your education. This list should include only those things which are non-negotiable; things you have to have. The first category includes items like food (when the cafeteria becomes unendurable), clothing, toiletries, laundry detergent and coins for the machines, bus fare or gas money, and so forth. The second category includes items like notebooks, tutoring services, academic writing services, and so forth. It can help to chart things out for the whole semester.
Second, pencil in estimated costs for each item in each category. When added up, you will see the bare minimum amount of money you will need to get by per semester. Subtract that amount from your total cash reserves, including the income from work-study jobs, student loans, scholarships, and so forth, and there you have your cushion. Feel free to spend that down as you wish, knowing you are covered for your necessities.
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