You’re in college and you feel free. You can eat what you want, go to class when you want, and even spend money on what you want. FREEDOM. It feels amazing.
Then slowly, you start realising the number on your bank account balance starts to decrease. Your wallet is emptying faster than you think and you realise you can’t go out clubbing simply… because… you have no money (what?). What just happened? You suddenly have less freedom. And before you know it you don’t have enough even for a beer because you literally have £0.40 in your bank account (has happened to me).
NO MONEY = LESS FREEDOM
And that really sucks.
BUT. There is a solution so that doesn’t happen: managing your money. It might sound boring, but it gets exciting once you realise you can actually take control and choose what you want and don’t want (also Money Experiments are awesome).
Here are a few ways you can manage your money so you don’t end up too broke to even drink about it.
Live within your means
In other words, don’t be stupid. As a college student, you’ll most likely not be able to afford eating out, having a fancy car (or even a car) or going to expensive bars and clubs. Only spend what you literally can. That means having a budget and being conscious of what is going in and what is going out.
Start with a pen and paper. Is your income from a loan, parents or yourself? Does it change every month? Expenses is the harder part. What are some set expenses you have to pay every month? Rent, bills, bus card, gym, etc. Then try to estimate how much you should be spending on food, entertainment and fun travel. If your expenses are higher than your income, you have a problem.
Adjust your lifestyle and budget so that you have more income than expenses. This means keeping track of what you spend (I use an app called CoinKeeper), reducing expenses and increasing income if you can. Once you have control of your money, you will actually be properly free because you will know exactly what is going where.
Look for discounts
Sometimes being a broke student comes at a benefit: things get a wee bit cheaper. This can be through offers, discounts and deals, you name it. Write a list of things you could get a discount on: drinks, textbooks, clothes, travel, food, etc.
Whenever you’re shopping for something look for deals, and if not don’t be ashamed to ask someone whether you get any benefits being a student.
I always keep an eye out when I’m walking on the street and I even see student discounts on haircuts (defo taking that). I always make sure to tell the bartender I’m a student. The other day I saw a restaurant giving away one free burrito to students on their birthday (you have to register on their website first). That’s free food. Guess who won’t be missing out on that!
Remember that even after you finish college you can take advantage of those discounts. Keep your student card and parade it around like you proud.
Cook on a budget
This is a proper skill. Although there is the stereotype of students eating whatever type of food that comes their way, many students also know the art of nutritious meals on a budget. Check out cheap recipes on Pinterest and start experimenting. Always have a filling and healthy snack ready for when you’re off to the library or for class. Show other students your proud creations and what they’re missing out by not cooking.
The other day I made chips/fries just by cutting up potatoes, soaking them in olive oil and some weird spices and baking them. Nice little treat and I add them to every meal. Same with rye bread and hummus.
Make the cooking fun and try not to eat ready made meals (there are SO MANY here in the UK). You don’t know what’s in them and they’re too expensive.
Keep it all in check
Too many times I’ve had to pass over my debit card and cross my fingers that it doesn’t get declined (it gets quite awkward when it says ‘card error’). Now, I have my bank app downloaded on my phone and can check how much money I have in each account.
There’s nothing worse than checking your bank account and having that mini heart attack when you have no idea why it’s lower than the last time (don’t blame your drunk self). Keep constant track of the balance and know exactly where the money’s going next. Have a calendar of when your rent, bills and other set expenses are set, the less mini heart attacks you have the better.
Manage the unnecessary expenses
This one can be the hardest to get rid of, but once you turn it into a habit, it’s all good.
First, you have to determine what expenses you consider are a ‘luxury’ or ‘surplus’.
Mine was smoking. In China I was paying £1 for a pack, and so like every other expat I got into the habit of smoking (although not regularly). Then I arrived in the UK and the expense hit my like a ton of bricks: £7 for a pack?????? That HAS to be a joke (it worked though). After one pack I told myself never again. I slowly cut down and nowadays only smoke if someone offers me one.
Another one is snacks. You think an odd £1 bag of chocolate won’t change anything. Sadly it all accumulates. Try to be conscious of each small amount you spend, and ask yourself whether you really need it.
Once you’ve determined your ‘surplus expenses’ take action to remove them. That can be removing bad habits or doing some research and finding out the cheaper options: phone contracts, charity shops, ATM fees, drinking at home instead of the bar, etc. All these things will help you decrease expenses and feel more in control of your $$$.
What bad money habit could you start changing right now?
Although these 5 money management habits may seem like a lot, they really all come down to two things: common sense and discipline. Don’t buy what you don’t need and don’t spend more than you have. I had to learn the hard way: literally being broke. Make sure that doesn’t happen to you and slowly try to change your habits. Do a Money Experiment and see how much money you can live on in a week. You might be surprised. And remember, you’re not the only one struggling. Plenty of other students are exchanging tips and tricks to get through the toughness of money scarcity.