We all know budgeting is important. But budgeting is also intimidating. There seem to be a million ways to do it, and they all seem to involve depriving yourself of the best things in life.
Essentially, there are two ways to change your bank balance: spend less or bring in more. Your options might be limited when it comes to the latter — there are only so many hours in a day, and we’re all paying good money to be in school, so it’s fair to make studying a priority. Of course, if you’re able to take on more work, the extra income certainly adds a bit of flexibility to your financial situation.
In some cases, spending less is easier. Watch for money leaks. Withdraw cash from your own bank’s ATMs to avoid ridiculous service charges. Take advantage of bank accounts and credit cards targeted to students; they usually have no annual fees. Shop at the grocery store that offers the lowest prices for the items you buy most frequently. In fact, ask if student discounts are offered wherever you shop. You can also take advantage of student discount cards, such as Scout, which costs just $10 at the SAM Centre in Building 6, City Centre Campus. Use the cheapest method of transportation practical for you — walk, take the bus, or carpool. Splitting costs is another creative way to save cash. You can buy bulk foods and share between friends. You probably already do the same thing with rent if you currently have roommates.
In general, think of your budget as a plan for how you’re going to spend your money. You’re in control! To make this plan, you’ll need to know your net income (how much money you have left after taxes and deductions) and your expenses. There are two kinds of expenses: fixed expenses, which are non-negotiable (like rent or your phone bill), and variable expenses, which you can control on a day-to-day basis (food is the biggest one here). Add up your fixed expenses and subtract the amount from your income. Whatever is left can be used for your variable expenses and savings. If it’s not enough, consider whether you can make some changes to your fixed expenses, or supplement your income with a part-time job. If you feel that you’ve got more exciting things to do than save receipts and enter them in a spreadsheet at the end of the month, you can use an app to help keep your spending where you want it. If you’re overwhelmed at the thought of micro-managing every cent in your bank account, relax. Budgets are tools, and yours needs to work for you, whether you’re a details-oriented person or a big-picture thinker.
It can help to remember that school is a time for sacrifice. You won’t be living this cheaply forever. And you don’t have to be perfect — in the grand scheme of school debt, spending $5 extra per week on lunch won’t matter, but it might make all the difference for your mental health. Know your priorities as well as your financial limitations, and build your budget accordingly.
Photo by Madison Kerr.