We’ve all been there: you only make a little money every week because all of your other time is spent studying, going to class, or finding a little time to see friends (you have to have a life, right?). It may be hard to envision, but $50 a week can go a long way…if you know how to budget. Here are some tips to make every last dollar stretch as far as it can.
1. Establish why you’re setting a budget.
Now, this one seems a bit self-explanatory. “Because I have no money,” you say. Actually, we budget because we want to make room for what we need, what we want, and what we can maybe live without. Another reason to budget is to help you put some money aside to save for a car, tuition, or any other reason you may have to bulk up that savings account.
2. Make a “needs,” “wants,” and “maybe” list.
Like I said, these three categories are a huge component of your budget. The needs list may vary slightly from person to person, but usually things like rent, school expenses, groceries, utilities, and gas are at the top if the list.
Next, figure out what you want to do with your money. This can be anything from tanning, going out with friends, or going bowling. This amount might be more or less than your needs list, but it must fit into your budget after your needs have been met.
If there is any money left over after your needs and wants have been met, it’s time to move on to the maybe list. The maybe list is nice, because you can find something fun you didn’t think you were going to be able to afford.
3. Overestimate what you’ll need for expenses.
By overestimating, you won’t find yourself scrambling for loose change in your roommate’s couch. You might have a cushion (ha) of a few extra dollars at the end of the month from overestimating, or you might just cut it close. Either way, you won’t be begging your parents or friends for money you should have had in the first place.
4. Use cash!
By using cash, you can see how much is left in your wallet for the week. Debit and credit cards are nice because they are compact and convenient, but mindlessly swiping can lead to a lot of financial trouble. Seeing exactly what you have will make you think twice if you “need” that iced caramel macchiato or if your coffee maker at home will do the job just fine.
5. Save change from the previous week.
At the end of the week, after you’ve used your cash, take the left over money (even if it is only some loose change) and put it into a jar. This is a fool-proof way to trick yourself into saving some extra money. You can use this money as a treat when you want something (i.e., the iced caramel macchiato) that you didn’t originally budget for, or if you’re running a few dollars short on utilities.
I can’t stress this one enough. Shop smart! When it comes to groceries, find generic items and look online for coupons for your weekly trip to the supermarket. A little can go a long way with coupons. After using them for a while, you’ll find how much you’re actually willing to pay for a product, as well as how to combine coupons with special offers to get even better deals. If you’re living on $50 a week, saving 75 cents on the things you buy can really add up.
7. Use your student ID.
No matter where you are, ask if they offer a student discount. An employee can’t assume you are a college student, so they usually won’t ask if you are. Even if they say no, you tried! If they say yes, you just saved money!
8. Go to free events wherever and whenever possible (even if you have to go alone).
Free events are the best thing since sliced bread. Most free events offer an environment where you can get together with peers, make new friends, discover new hobbies, and even get free food (double score!). Even if an event doesn’t seem like it’s totally tailored to you, GO! You’ll be entertained without spending money, and you might just enjoy it more than you expected!
9. Forgive yourself if not everything goes as planned.
Budgeting is hard and no one is denying that. With that being said, don’t beat yourself up if you spent too much in one place when it should’ve been going somewhere else. Think of every little “bump” as a learning experience. If you fix your mistake next time, then it was worth it.