10 Money Habits to Start in College
College was a huge eye-opener for me. HUGE. I’ll admit…Mom and Dad spoiled me rotten. I never struggled with money until the day I moved out. And, of course, I never realized that until it was gone. I will be forever grateful to my parents for the wonderful upbringing they gave me, but I’ll also be just as grateful for how they handled college. Getting cut off was painful, don’t get me wrong, but it’s the best thing they ever could have done for me.
If I’d had the choice, I never would’ve attended community college. In fact, I’d probably be busy partying at UNH right now if I’d had my way. Instead, I’ve saved over 20,000 in the last year by paying for an apartment instead of a dorm. I’ve saved at least the same amount on tuition by getting the EXACT SAME credits at CCRI instead of at some expensive university. I’ll be transferring this fall, and receiving a four-year degree just the same. I’ll just graduate with a quarter of the debt. Of course, putting that experience into a blog post makes developing financial independence seem like a piece of cake! Trust me, its not. Even now, after three years of practice, I still find myself staying awake at night, worrying about how I’ll pay my bills. Thankfully, I’ve found that following these 10 tips helps to keep me on track.
Develop a budget
The most important part. Let me say that again… this is the most important part. In order to get your finances under control, you have to know exactly where your money is going. That means planning for bills, groceries, gas, and even unexpected expenses each and every month. Remember to personalize your budget to your own needs. For example, I’m lucky enough to be on my parent’s insurance still. So while insurance is normally a staple on most people’s budgets, I’ve been able to cross it off mine.
To create a budget of your own, start by writing down every monthly expense you can think of. Rent, utilities, groceries, gas…anything you spend money on should end up in your budget. For those of you who may need a little help, check out my budget worksheet! To gain access to your free download, enter your email into the form below!
Make sure to be realistic here…you’re not going to be able to completely cut out splurges. Sometimes you just need to buy yourself a little treat, or stop at Dunkin Donuts for an emergency coffee. Don’t get too strict, or you’ll never stick to your budget, which takes me to my next order of business…
STICK TO YOUR BUDGET
This is where I normally experience some trouble. Having a budget becomes pretty useless if you don’t use it. That’s why I always make sure to add an “entertainment” section to mine. For me, that includes eating out, date nights, shopping trips, and of course, coffee. By budgeting for fun, random splurges become less frequent. Kudos to those people that can cut out recreational spending completely, but I am SO not one of those people. Instead of beating myself up for splurging, I budget for it, and that’s completely okay. As long as I don’t overspend, I always end up with a good chunk of money to put into savings at the end of each month.
Set up an emergency fund
As soon as you get your finances in order enough to keep up with your bills, its time to SAVE. To be safe, I try to get my emergency fund up to three times my monthly budget. That means that, if my income were to disappear entirely, I could survive for at least three months on my savings. It took me a while to save that much, and unfortunately, even longer because I’ve had to drain the account several times, but that’s what it’s there for!
For example, after totaling my car, I had to drain my emergency fund to pay for a new down-payment. Since then, I am still working to get back up to that three months saved mark. Be patient with yourself–it can take months, or even years, to set up your emergency fund. All that matters is that you have some money available for when you really need it.
Take advantage of coupons, sales, and student discounts
This takes so much patience! Truthfully, patience that I normally do not have. While I try to use coupons as much as I can, more often than not, I clip my coupons and then forget them at home until it’s too late and they’re expired. Thankfully, I like to check my email about every five minutes, and most stores have email subscriptions with some great virtual coupons. There’s also about ten million student discounts out there, all you need is a college ID. If those options don’t work for you (and you’re the most forgetful person on the planet like me), check out my all-time favorite retail app, RetailMeNot in the next section!
Utilize money saving apps
Okay. RetailMeNot. Where do I start?! This magical app allows you to search for your favorite stores to find in-store and online coupons. Not all stores provide coupons, but the app will definitely keep you up to date on any sales going on. You can even input your location to learn about all of the sales and coupons at stores near you! Some of my other favorite financial apps include Credit Karma, Goodbudget, and ShoeBoxed (which stores digital copies of your receipts). Most of you have probably heard of Credit Karma, it’s a great way to check your credit score and manage your accounts.
The Goodbudget app sticks to the “Envelope Method”, in which you store cash in categorized envelopes according to your budget. For example, I would have an envelope filled with $340 each month for rent, and another envelope with $300 for groceries. When you run out of cash, that’s it. No more spending in that category for the month. Because I’m careful not to carry a ton of cash on me, I use Goodbudget to figuratively fill and empty my envelopes. The app isn’t connected to my bank account, so it’s basically all pretend. I just input my purchases to keep track of my spending, and the app will withdraw the money from whatever envelope they pertain to.
I’ve included a quick look at my personal Goodbudget homepage…as you can see, I’ve spent 100% of my rent envelope for the month, because I’ve already made my payment. I’ve spent some of my gas allotment, and most of my groceries. I haven’t made any payments for my Target card or Lasik payment yet, so they remain full for now. The best part about Goodbudget is that the app calculates how much you should be spending each week. See that little black line in the middle of my grocery envelope? That shows me that I should have spent that percentage of the envelope at this point in the month. The green line shows where my actual grocery spending is. As you can tell, I’m a little behind. That means I have to cut back on my spending for the rest of July.
Ever heard of Dave Ramsey’s snowball method? I LIVE BY THIS. In order to pay off debt, Dave recommends targeting your smallest debts (like a Target RedCard, if you’re like me!) first, and getting them out of the way. While sticking to your monthly minimum payments on all of your debts, you should make sure to put any extra income toward your smallest debt. These “snowballs” add up, and eventually, you’ll see some of your smaller debts paid off, allowing you to focus on bigger payments like student loans. As with anything money related, this can seem a little complicated. For a more detailed explanation, learn it from the expert, Dave Ramsey, himself here.
Start building credit
Establishing credit can seem impossible when trying to get your foot in the door. How are you supposed to qualify for a credit card with no credit score? So far, I’ve discovered two solutions to this problem. The easiest way is to find a reliable cosigner. Unfortunately, most people aren’t willing to put their own credit on the line to help you out. If that’s the case, try applying for store credit cards, such as the Target Red Card (sorry guys , I absolutely LOVE Target, and will forever recommend them). Stores are normally much more lenient with the lines of credit they extend, so they’re perfect for those with little to no established credit!
While I haven’t technically developed my hide hustle yet, it’s a work-in-progress…that’s what this blog is! A side hustle is any sort of endeavor that can bring you extra income (in addition to your regular job). This could seriously be anything. Some of the more popular types of side hustles include…
- Taking online surveys
- Furniture flipping
- Pet/Baby sitting
- Virtual assisting
- and THOUSANDS more…
Please, feel free to boo-hoo me for this one. I know, I know, “practice what you preach”. Sorry guys, I haven’t gotten around to investing yet. I’ve included it (despite my lack of experience) because every personal finance website out there says this is the number one mistake of people in their twenties. The earlier you invest, the more money you stand to make. I guess it’s just fear holding me back: I can just barely pay my bills, put a little aside in savings, and have a teensy bit of money left over for fun. Can I really afford to invest? According to the leading finance blogs and website, yes, yes I can. I guess I’ll just have to get back to you on this one…
Set up retirement fund
Here I go again, guys… Thankfully, I have an excuse for this one. When I first attempted to set up a 401K at my last formal daycare job, I found out that you had to be at least 21 (I’m not sure if that’s everywhere, or just at that specific job). Now, being a nanny, I don’t have that option, and I SO wish I did. This is something you should be taking advantage of as soon as possible, as it’s basically free money from your employer. For those of you who don’t have any retirement planning opportunities provided by your employer, be sure to set up a separate savings account for when you’re older.
Do any of you millenials out there have experience with investing, side hustles, or retirement funds? Please, please, PLEASE don’t hesitate to share for all of us noobs in the comments below!
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