According to a recent study by Sallie Mae, 74 percent of students eliminated colleges from their list of perspective options due to cost.
It may sound like something you don’t need to worry about right now—I have loans and time, I don’t need to worry about that yet—but with rising tuition fees and the uncertainty of the future, it’s important to have a plan for how you’ll pay for college, whether that’s up-front or after you’ve graduated.
A monthly budget can easily help you see where your money is going, allowing you to set some aside and learn financial responsibility so when the time comes, you’re prepared. Trust me, I wish I’d known how to plan for this.
Record Your Spending
The first step in creating any budget is to record how much money you actually spend each month, which will probably be eye-opening. In order to see your spending patterns, you’ll want to look at past spending over the last six months and the best method is to separate your spending habits into categories.
An easy way to do this is with a budgeting app, like Mint. Mint connects to all of your bank accounts and pulls your recent spending habits in order to suggest a budget for each category. Of course you can individually go through your bank statements, but it might take a lot of extra work.
It’s easy to get carried away once you start working on your budget, but you need to set saving and spending goals that are both achievable and reasonable. A good way to start is by comparing wants versus needs:
- You need to pay bills, buy groceries to eat and other necessities to get by.
- You want to go to the movies, go out to eat, buy the newest iPhone.
While the intention of cutting something out altogether is good—I really don’t need to go shopping at all—you’ll end up going over budget every month.
Finally, it’s realistic to consider you may have to spend money on an unplanned emergency or situation; think car troubles, doctor visits, new books for class. Leave a little extra room in your budget for when these things come up and if you don’t use it at the end of the month, put the extra into savings. This way, you’re putting even more money away to pay for school or a big, unexpected expense.
Watch Out for the Pink and Blue Tax
Cutting back doesn’t happen overnight; it takes time as you learn where you can save, where you should spend, etc. To start making changes today, consider your everyday purchases. You buy the same lotion or shampoo every time you go to the drug store, right? Well, you may be paying more than you need thanks to the Pink and Blue Tax.
The idea is simple: products marketed to a specific gender tend to be more expensive. For example, in this CouponBox analysis, it was found that moisturizer is more expensive for women than men ($34 versus $8) and deodorant is more expensive for men than for women ($6 to $5). While the second example isn’t extreme, it’s small changes like this that can make a difference in savings over time.
Consider finding a gender-neutral option, or buying men’s moisturizer, for example, if it still works for you. In most cases, both products are nearly the same.
If You Get Off Track, Regroup
Budgets can be hard to stick to, especially when life gets in the way, but the important thing is that you work to get back on track. Don’t let a few slip-ups derail your entire budget. If you notice that you’re over-spending in some areas each month, consider readjusting the budget and reducing your spending in other categories. Your diet should always remain flexible and fluid, allowing you to get back on track or change things around as needed.
Creating and sticking to a budget is hard, but when it comes time to pay for your own groceries, or tackle student loans six months after you graduate, you’ll be glad you did. Remember, your budget doesn’t have to be strict; be realistic with yourself—if you want to have plenty of money to socialize, allow yourself that freedom, but consider how you can cut back in other areas. Make it work for you, and you’ll have a better time sticking with it.
About Jessica Thiefels: Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than 10 years and is currently a lifestyle blogger. She’s written for Reader’s Digest, AARP, CollegeRaptor, Shape and more. Follow her on Twitter @Jlsander07 for more money-saving ideas and health tips.