The fall semester of my junior year in college, I was saving all of my money to afford studying abroad in Barcelona for the spring term. While this was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, it also emptied out my piggy bank.
For the first time, I knew what it was like to be dead broke. I had only two dollars in my savings account and only $34.52 in my checking; $36.52 was all of the money I owned in the world. Thankfully, I am in a much better state financially, however, learning how to save my money maybe one of the greatest life lessons I ever learned.
I made a list of the 10 most important things I’ve learned from being a broke college kid.
1. It is possible to live off of oatmeal, grilled cheese, and leftovers for an entire semester.
While options of a meal plan are preferable to my empty kitchen cabinets, meal plans tend to be really expensive and often overpriced. I decided I would save some money and try on my chef’s hat. I would go grocery shopping with a list to avoid buying unnecessary items. I always opted for the store brand product because it was cheaper, and I would use my store loyalty card at the register to take advantage of the in-store coupons and promotions they offered. Because I lived alone, I would make one big meal and bag the leftovers for the rest of the week. Since many of the pre-made frozen dinners at the grocery store are loaded with fat and sodium, I made both my wallet and my scale happy.
2. Don’t go shopping if you can’t afford to buy anything.
I made this mistake when I first arrived home from Europe. My friend wanted to go to the mall to get a new dress for her graduation. It was months since I last saw her and even though I had no money in my account, I thought it sounded like a good way for us to hangout. As much as I love my friend, being at a store that’s filled with beautiful things, none of which I can afford, was torture. It made me feel so poor, and it tempted me to buy things I didn’t need with money I didn’t have.
3. Live below your means.
As a waitress, I make a whopping $2.15 an hour, plus tips. Budgeting with an unsteady income is challenging, but it’s not impossible. Evaluate your priorities and prepare an emergency stash in case one week or month is slow and you still have bills. If you can’t afford to go out and drink every night, don’t.
4. Don’t rely on one income stream.
The way I look at it, if you only have one job, you are only one step away from being unemployed. I currently have three jobs. I am a waitress and I have two summer internships. It’s difficult to manage everything and I don’t have very much free time, but I am finally starting to accumulate enough money for a savings account. As much as working can suck, it’s the only way to make money and gain a valuable network for your future.
5. Moving back in with Mom and Dad is not the worst thing in the world.
I always love seeing my parents, but when I am home for an extended time period, I begin to travel back in time to high school where I have a curfew and chores. Living with them again, however, is allowing me to save my money much easier, with the added benefit of a fully stocked fridge and laundry service. I don’t mind vacuuming a few times a week if it allows me to be one step closer to financial independence.
6. Sales are a very beautiful thing.
I have so many clothes already in my closet that spending full price on something seems a little ludicrous. I still love to get new things, but by shopping at outlet stores, and going to stores like Marshalls and TJ Maxx, I can get what I need without spending my entire paycheck for the week. That being said, you are never saving money when you purchase items just because there is a great sale. You are still spending money even if it’s a good discount. Bottom line: if you don’t need it, don’t buy it.
7. A credit card bill will ALWAYS come at the end of the month.
Credit is not free money. Don’t spend anything on a credit card that you can’t afford to pay at the end of the month. Many credit card companies prey off of young college kids and sell low minimum monthly payments. Do not fall into this trap. Pay off all of your debt and avoid the obscene interest charges that follow. Once you lose your credit rating, it is very hard to build it back up.
8. A simple budget can save you a lot of financial heartbreak.
Knowing how much you make compared to how much you spend can be eye opening. I didn’t realize how much everything was actually costing me until I sat down and crunched the numbers. The amount of money I spent a week on “miscellanous” items was twice as much then I had originally planned. I evaluated my purchases and tried to find ways I could reallocate the money I was misusing. Eventually, I came up with a budget that was flexible enough to accommodate my erratic income and my impulsive spending. Any money that I budgeted to spend but didn’t use would be placed in a separate account that I could use for fun purchases. Using apps like Mint.com are a great way to keep track of your personal finances as well as create a personalized budget.
9.The diploma alone won’t get you a job.
It’s a sad fact that you can spend $100,000 on a college education and still graduate with no job. It’s even more unnerving when many entry level positions require two to three years of experience in the industry. Internships are the best way to gain experience and build a professional network. Paid or unpaid, the more internships you have, the more interested employers will be in you when it’s time to graduate. Use all of your resources to find the right internships for you, including asking family and friends and applying online. Something my mother always told me about applying for jobs was, “It’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know.”
10.Only YOU have the power to change your life!
No one likes to work crappy jobs. If you are unhappy with your life, change it. We live in an age where almost all of the information we could ever need is available with the click of a finger. Use it. Learn everything you can. Now is the time that we set our work ethic and behaviors for the rest of our lives. You, and only you, have to decide what you want and go for it. Anything you want to be is possible.
Everyone has a different strategy when it comes to managing his or her money. There is no one way for everyone. If you are looking for a student or automotive loan, explore all your banking options. You may find better rates at credit unions rather than traditional banks, which could help you avoid massive student debt. Having a goal in mind, like becoming debt free, can help steer you on the right path to a promising financial future.