Living the apartment life on a college budget
October 10, 2016
After the rent, utilities and grocery bills have been paid, students living in their first apartment may feel like they are drowning in payments without receiving a full-time paycheck. Luckily, creating a budget and limiting some costs is simple to do, it just takes some willpower and smart spending.
College is a great time to learn how to keep a budget and develop habits that will help you in the future.
Set a budget, and stick to it!
There are many tips and tricks for creating a budget, but the most important is to have the willpower to stay with the budget you created. If not, you have a wonderful sheet of paper with your goals, but no money in your bank account.
To create a budget, I like to use an Excel document to list all of my expenditures and deposits, with a sum function totalling my balance in the last column. I also can color-code my purchases, so I have a system to see how much I am spending on groceries, utilities, shopping or other expenses.
Save electricity and water
Growing up, I definitely took the power in my house for granted. I wasn’t paying the bills, so I didn’t think much about how much it costs to power my daily life. Getting the first few electric bills at my apartment was a bit of a shock.
To save money on utilities, be a little more conscious of when you are using electricity and water. Turn off the lights when you leave the room, shave a few minutes off your shower, and turn the air conditioning off when you can get by using a fan. Running either a window air conditioner or central air takes a lot of energy, especially in a college apartment where the walls and windows are not the most insulated.
Don’t waste food
I have a bad habit of going grocery shopping, buying something new and exciting and not knowing how to cook it when I get home. Right now, I have two sweet potatoes on my counter and no recipe to use them in. Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to food going bad before I can use it, requiring me to basically throw money in the trash.
I’ve learned to only buy enough perishable food, like produce or milk, to last four or five days, and to make more frequent grocery shopping trips. I realized that I won’t eat vegetables that have gone even a little soft, so frequent trips allow me to save money and cut down on waste.
When I bring food home, it’s nice to store it systematically, so nothing gets lost in a corner of the refrigerator. Having all of the vegetables, cheese or fruit grouped together makes it easy to see what I need to buy, what needs to be eaten and what will stay fresh for a few more days.
When it comes to cooking meat and fish, I almost always freeze the meat and take it out as I use each piece. I simply can’t cook a full package of chicken or beef before it expires. You can purchase meat pre-frozen in a big bag, or you can buy fresh meat, divide it into smaller servings and freeze it yourself. Just be sure to use freezer bags — they are a little thicker than normal baggies and will keep the food from getting freezer burn.
If you still find yourself spending too much money on groceries, try signing up for a rewards system, such as M Perks at Meijer or shopping at Aldi, which sells food at considerably lower prices than the name-brand items.
Save a portion of each paycheck
Next semester, I’m studying abroad in Spain and I’m working to save money for my travels. I’ve found that for me, the best way to save money is to have it never really appear in my checking account. When my paycheck comes through, I set aside a portion of it for Spain, and I don’t think about it again.
Many banks will provide this feature automatically by scheduling a recurring withdrawal on payday, but it’s easy to remember to do yourself. Think of it as paying a bill that comes in on payday, and use that money for travel, concert tickets or another big item that you are saving up for.
Set aside money for fun
I love coffee. Whether it’s first thing in the morning, between classes or when I get home at the end of the day, nothing sounds better than a latte from Espresso Royale or a nice blonde roast from Starbucks – at least until I realize how much money I’ve spent at coffee shops that week. When paying for a drink is as easy as holding my phone up to a scanner, it’s easy to forget how much money is actually being spent.
Because I know that trying to stop myself from buying coffee altogether is unlikely, I’ve developed a system to limit my expenditures. At the beginning of the week, I stop by the ATM and pull out the amount of cash that I’m willing to spend on “fun items” — coffee, eating out, etc. — for the next seven days. If I run out of cash, I’m done for the week.
It’s an incredibly simple system, but it works for me. I think that I’m more likely to stick to a budget if I limit myself to a little money spent on things I like, so I don’t feel like I’m giving up everything to save money.
Living on a budget in college does not necessarily mean living on ramen noodles and never leaving the house. By being smart about your expenditures and saving money where you can, you can cut costs and develop lifelong habits.
Isabella is a junior in LAS.