Avoid Becoming the 'Broke College Kid' - What I Learned My Freshman Year
So you've made it to college... finally! You can now kick your feet up, relax, and not have to worry about your parents being on your back about every little thing. That one word you've longed to discover is finally at your fingertips - freedom. You now have freedom to do what you want, when you want. You can eat pizza on your dorm room floor at 2 am without anyone telling you otherwise. You can stay up as late as you want with your friends binge-watching Netflix on a Friday night without your mother telling you to come home. You can finally make your own decisions, 100% of the time. Now, it may seem glorious at first (and it is!), but what many new college students fail to realize is this - freedom comes with responsibility.
Entering college, you are introduced to many different types of freedom. You gain academic freedom to choose what your classes are, where they are, and when you will take them. (Let's be honest, I was never meant to spend my college days in a biology lab anyway). You gain social freedom to choose who you spend your time with, when you spend time with them, where you spend time with them, and what you do when you spend time with them. (It's a whole new world out there - no more playing with the neighbor boy Tommy because your Mom said so). Finally, perhaps the most important (and most risky) freedom of all is financial freedom. Sure, you worked in high school at the local pizza shop and made some extra change for the movies, but you never really had to think about 'adult' expenses like rent, utility bills, food, medical expenses, etc. The transition from having little-to-no financial responsibility to an abundance of financial responsibility can be tricky - and quite frightening, too. Perhaps this is why so many college students fall under the cliché stereotype of the 'broke college kid'. I myself fell under the stereotype at first because I didn't understand how to properly budget my money.
So how exactly can you avoid becoming the 'broke college kid' and enjoy your college experience without hesitation? I've come up with a few Do's and Don'ts based on my personal experience.
1) Know your financial position
Identify your current income and current expenses as a starting point. Determine if you have adequate income and reasonable spending patterns. Set your budget considering your personal situation, and establish a plan to achieve your financial goals.
2) Take advantage of the free opportunities on campus
Free movie on Tuesday night in the union? Free tailgate before
the game? Free t-shirt giveaway in front of the library? Yes, Yes, Yes!!
3) Set realistic goals to save. Aim for 10%
Saving is key. Contributing just 10% of your income to
savings will help you tremendously down the road, whether
you want to invest in a home or a retirement fund!
4) Apply for scholarships
Scholarships are FREE money - take advantage of it! Trust me, a few hours of
applying is well worth thousands of dollars.
1) Spend money on things you don't need
Ask yourself these three questions: Do I need it?
What use will I get out of it? How often will I use it?
2) Think that you have to spend to have quality time with friends
You don't need to go out to a fancy restaurant or movie
to have fun. Break out a board game or have a movie night
on your laptop!
3) Waste too much free time
Sure, we all love Netflix, but too much time spent staring at a screen won't get you anywhere.
Get a part-time job or even volunteer! You'll find that you have more time on your hands
as a college student. Why not make a little extra money to prevent overspending while building your resume?
4) Sacrifice experience just because it costs money.
It's alright to spend sometimes - just choose your financial battles
and spend wisely. Remember, college is about the experience!
Finally, In order to keep yourself in a comfortable financial position while avoiding becoming the 'broke college kid', I would advise setting up a spreadsheet much like the one below to track and manage your finances each month. An important note that this spreadsheet specifically takes into account are planned vs.actual expenses. Remember, there will always be expenses that you will not plan for. Be sure to save 10% each month in anticipation for these unexpected expenses. Knowing your financial situation is the first step in reaching financial success. Manage your finances accordingly, and I promise you will avoid becoming the 'broke college kid'.