Living Below Your Means: Mastering Money as a Student

We are taught a lot of math in high school. The Pythagorean Theorem, how to graph equations, but for some reason most of us are never taught the math that all of us are going to have to use to survive the adult world, and that’s budgeting and finance! It’s no wonder there are so many broke college kids living off of Top Ramen and Easy Mac. 

Even if you never learn anything else in college, following these six tips will set you up for financial success while you're in school.  

Live Beneath Your Means

My old Business Math teacher used to tell us this, and there is no better budgeting tip than this one. You must live beneath your means.

This means that you have to act like you have less money than you actually do. If you do this, you will always have enough money in case of an emergency. I always keep a minimum of $200 in my checking account as a buffer to fall back on if a financial emergency or necessity comes up. This also saves me from any fees for bounced checks or being over-drawn.

If I get close to that $200 mark, I cut back my spending. Depending on your circumstance, you may need a larger financial buffer. Having an emergency savings account is a good idea as well.

Use Technology

Mint is a free app that you can download on your phone or tablet that allows you to set up a budget for yourself. You can enter how much money you would like to spend for food, gas, living costs, etc. It will send an email once a week telling you where you are spending your money so that you can see where you are overspending. It’s a tool that I use so that I can see where I need to cut back (like on Starbucks). 

There are plenty of other budgeting and finance apps available as well. Pick the one that works best for you!

Online Banking

I also have an app that connects me to my bank, and I am able to see how much money is in my accounts too. When I was in Business Math, we were taught how to balance a checkbook and how to make sure we weren’t going over budget. Now, we have technology to do that for us (yay). However, it is your responsibility to make sure that you are not withdrawing too much money from your account. This can lead to extra fees that, let’s face it, none of us want to spend. 

Don’t Spend Your Loans on Anything You’re Not Supposed To

I have seen many of my friends get their financial aid money and go crazy. I even knew someone who spent $500 in one day on clothes alone. You cannot do this. Your student loan money should be going towards rent, tuition, or whatever else you need to get by. If you feel like you might not be able to control yourself, have your parents hold onto the money and give you the exact amount you need when you need it.

It may seem like fun to go on a shopping spree, but you will have to pay that money back one day with interest! That means that $80 splurge could end up being $160 or more by the time you are done paying for it. Instead of going shopping, put any extra money you have towards your first loan payment or use it to pay off interest on unsubsidized or private loans.

Educate Yourself on Your Loans

Many students are so overwhelmed by the money they are borrowing they don't even realize how much debt they really have! Make sure you're keeping track of your loans, and make a plan to pay the interest off of any unsubsidized loans or private loans you've taken out. If you aren't at least paying the interest on those loans they will grow in size during your college years leaving you with a much bigger payment than you expected after you graduate.

After you graduate you may be eligible to refinance your loans to lower your interest rate and pay off your debt faster.

Embrace the Lifestyle

Budgeting isn’t about creating Excel spreadsheets and tracking every cent you spend, it’s about living beneath your means, being aware of your spending, and having self control. 

This may not really sound like much fun, and I know you might see that Michael Kors bag and want to buy it right away, but just pause for a second and remember what is in your life that is most important. Being in college is a once in a lifetime experience that not everyone gets to enjoy. Focus on the experience, learn as much as you can and make awesome friends.

Embrace the lifestyle of a student and have fun finding free or low-cost activities. I promise you, it can actually be fun and you may find yourself enjoying a simpler lifestyle and having less stuff to take care of.

And just think, one day you will be able to buy the things you want with the money you earned, not the money you’re borrowing. 

College Factual has partnered with Credible, a site that allows students to compare personalized offers from multiple lenders in minutes. Using this service students and parents can find the best rates on private student loans, and graduates can refinance their loans to potentially save thousands. Learn more about our partnership