Managing Money in College, Part Two: Managing Your Lifestyle 101
One of the best lessons you can learn as a college student is how to manage your lifestyle rather than letting your lifestyle manage you. Don’t let unexpected expenses ambush one of the best times of your life. Remember, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. So map it out. Here are some preliminary steps that will help make your trip an optimal experience.
Open a Checking Account
One of the first things you’ll be doing is opening a checking account to pay your rent, utilities, and other expenses that obviously call for checks. Just make sure to choose a respectable credit union or bank. A free T-shirt or coffee mug won’t make up for an impersonal banking experience. Alliance Credit Union is a good choice since they offer free checking and free online banking and access to 60,000 convenient and surcharge free ATMs. They also treat every customer like a person rather than as just another account.
Once you have your checkbook and debit card in hand, money is easy to access, almost too easy. And when you tear off a check, there’s always another one right behind it. But when you pay with cash, you see the money change hands. That’s a pecuniary eye opener. When the wallet is empty, it’s empty. You may see dust specks and lint, but there’s no money in there no matter how hard you look. So make a point of paying with cash since it’s about as real and courageous as you can get when spending money.
Whether you’re online or in the mall, don’t buy something just because you know the price or because it’s 10% off. A price is notification not permission and a discount just makes things a little bit cheaper not necessarily affordable. Be honest with yourself and ask if your budget (whether it tracks monthly, yearly, or semester income and expenses) will allow for this new expense. And if you don’t have a budget, put it down—ASAP—as a high priority homework assignment. It’s the map of your lifestyle. (You can find numerous student budget worksheets online.)
Your Savings Account
Of course, it’s not the budget worksheet that determines the quality of your lifestyle—it’s how much you respect the dollar allotment that you figure will get you from point A to point B. If you stay true to your budget, you might even end up saving money. You could then start depositing into your savings account that is automatically opened when you join Alliance. You can earn interest and transfer funds to back up your checking account if needed. If you have money in a savings account, you’ll have less stress and a lot more fun knowing you’re really able to afford special events, big weekends, and special occasion dates.
“Managing Your Lifestyle 101″
When a new phone, game, console, sporting event or concert is announced and you don’t have the money for the fare, don’t say or even think “I can charge it.” Charging something you can’t otherwise afford is the quickest way to make hash of your personal finances. Your attitude as well as your behavior suffers when you owe more than you can pay. It’s amazing how much better things work and feel when you can take ownership without guilt. Then you feel like you’re in control because you are! Usually, your college lifestyle is a pretty good indicator of your post-collegiate lifestyle. So get a head start on the road to success and make “Managing Your Lifestyle 101″ one of your main course requirements.