Don’t toss that final suitcase in the SUV and start the drive to college just yet. Here are a dozen tips to help you manage your money so the last two months of the semester aren’t spent munching stale potato chips in the dorm room or scanning the sidewalks for dropped change.
1. Track it
Track your spending for two to four weeks to find out where your money is going. Are four trips to Starbucks a week really necessary?
“They don’t realize how much they spend on little things,” says Vickie Hampton, a financial planner and an associate professor at Texas Tech University in Lubbuck, Texas. “That’s the most common revelation.”
Mark Oleson, director of a financial counseling clinic at Iowa State University, adds, “Usually, just by tracking expenses, you’ll start to curb expenses.”
2. Get a plan
The best way to manage your money over the course of a semester is to sit down and map out a budget. List sources of income such as scholarships, loans, money from summer jobs and cash from your parents as well as expenses, such as tuition, books and groceries.
3. Good time money
If you know you need to buy a new CD or go to concert or a party every week, make room for that in your budget.
“You need some entertainment,” Hampton says. “A student is going to get really burned out if you don’t do anything fun.”
4. Pace yourself
If you spend, spend, spend at the beginning of the semester, you could be tapped out later. Give yourself a spending limit for each week. Stick to it and you won’t have to eat macaroni and cheese every day in December.
5. Go easy with the credit cards
“One quick way to spend beyond your means is to charge it,” says Mallary Tytel, president of Healthy Workplaces.
Use credit cards sparingly. Once you get into the habit of reaching for a Visa, it can be hard to stop.
“I saw a student pick up a bag of chips and charge it,” Tytel says.
Who wants to pay interest on a bag of Doritos?
6. Set your own credit line
Just because you have a credit card with a $2,000 credit line doesn’t mean you have to spend $2,000. If you know you can only pay back $500, then just spend that.
Afraid you’ll spend as long as there’s room on the card? Call your credit card company and request your credit limit be lowered. Keep at it. Card companies will try boost up your credit lines so you spend more. Tell them “no” each time they try.
7. Get real
You can do what you want, but you can’t do everything you want. You’re going to have to make some choices. Whatever you choose is going to cost some money. Be realistic.
“You need to understand you can’t have everything and you have to understand there are consequences,” Tytel says. “At some point there needs to be a reality check in terms of what things cost. Most kids have no idea.”
8. Stuff happens
If you bust your budget on something you really, really want to do this week, make up for it next week.
If you find that you must go out to dinner and a movie one week, spend the money; be satifisfied with the decision, and commit to staying home, eating at home and not making any other purchases the following week.
9. Look ahead
Whether it’s a road trip with friends or an auto insurance bill, if you know a big expense is coming, start putting some money aside to pay for it.
“It’s a lot easier to set aside $50 every month than to come up with $300 when the bill is due,” Oleson says.
10. Get in touch with your roomie
Contact your roommate before the semester starts and divvy up expenses. Chat about who will bring a refrigerator and who will bring a microwave.
This way you avoid duplicating purchases and excess spending, but will still have all the conveniences to make college life easier.
11. Spread it out
“Most of the big expenses are at the beginning of the school year,” Tytel says. “Buy books as you need them. That will spread out expenses.”
Don’t forget to check out prices from online bookstores. They may give you a better deal than the campus bookstore. Buy used books whenever possible.
12. Ask for help when you need it
“It’s very difficult to say ‘I’m in trouble and I need $2,000’ or ‘I spent my student loan money,'” Tytel says.
Screw up some courage and phone home. The longer you put it off, the worse things get.