College Budgeting 101: How To Avoid Wasting Money

When your parents leave you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on move-in day, your mind is racing with the ideas of everything you can do for yourself now. I know mine was. Just think, I could shop for what I wanted without fear of motherly judgment or race around at all hours of the night without fatherly approval. College hurls us into the position of being adults so quickly we forget how to actually behave like adults. We’re practically drunk on the power of being able to do whatever we want. This includes being able to spend our money the way we want to spend it, even if that means shelling out all your summer savings for a new video game or article of clothing.

Common Pitfalls College Students Fall For:

Idea: Let’s go out to eat every day/week/weekend! 

Reality: This will seem like a cute and social activity for a while until those bills start to add up over time. While Panera may be your absolute favorite restaurant chain, your wallet will not share your sentiments. Restaurants, and even fast food chains, are incredibly expensive if you choose to populate one every day. Instead, try to stick to your meal plan provided by your college. Your parents (or perhaps you) paid a lot of money just to make sure you have 12 or 14 meals a week. While dining hall food is not always at the top of the line for quality, it is still healthy and filling if you plan your meals correctly. Save the eating out experience for special occasions, such as birthdays, dates or even just when your parents are visiting. Dining out loses its thrill if you do it all the time anyway.

Idea: That sweater is to die for! I simply must have it and perhaps those shoes as well…

Reality: I will have to stop you right there. If your campus has stores within walking distance or even a mall within commuting distance, leave the wallet at home. Being in charge of your own money in college with no watchful parent around leaves so much room to lose yourself to the temptation of splurging on material possessions like clothes. My campus has an Urban Outfitters strategically placed on the busiest street on campus, which comes right before the Walgreens. On numerous occasions, I have found myself leaving with an almost empty wallet from that particular store. Do not fall for this! That sixty dollar pair of jeans will go into clearance eventually, but at times, it is best to wait until you go home for a holiday to acquire new clothes. Also, do not bring all your clothes to campus at once. Instead, bring your clothes in shifts and trade them out every once in a while when you visit home. It will be like you have a completely different wardrobe, and you did not have to drop a single dollar on it. Plus, there are plenty of activities on campus that give away free t-shirts and other clothing. If you have better self-control than I, by all means, go shopping. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Idea: I’ll bring my car along, and there will be so many added benefits.

Reality: One of the biggest myths of starting college is you will want to bring your car. This has been cleared up more and more each year, but people still fall into the trap of paying hundreds of dollars to park their car at the school. Once it’s here, I guarantee you will hardly use it. Your precious Prius or Jeep will sit neglected and unused in a parking lot, usually not close to you, so you are not avoiding walking even by bringing the car. Depending on your campus, most of your classes will be within walking distance. The way U of I is set up, most of your classes are inaccessible by car anyway unless you have a class that requires you to leave the area, which is highly unlikely. The gas will add up, and the costs of keeping it here will also not make you a happy camper (er, college student). Save yourself an awkward car ride or two, and do not bring a car to school. Instead, try to bring a bike or other mode of transportation. Plus, a car only makes you more prone to eat out or go to the mall. It’s an enabler, and we don’t like enablers!

Bottom Line: Enjoy college on a budget.

Most of these pitfalls can be easily avoided if you are concentrating on your studies and hanging out with your friends. After all, you are less likely to spend a lot of money if you are too busy exploring the campus and the events it has to offer with your buds. Keep an eye on your bank account and be frugal when necessary. College is your last barrier between you and the adult world. Believe me, your boss is not going to be as accepting if you could not afford gas money for work because you just had to hit the newest sale at Urban Outfitters. So prepare now, young ones, and overall, have fun but not expensive fun. It’s easier than you think.

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Tori Stukins

Tori Stukins

Tori Stukins is a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign pursuing a degree in Broadcast Journalism with a minor in Theatre. On campus, Tori can often be found working on various projects for Her Campus Illinois, acting in a production or reading. While at home, she enjoys working at her family’s restaurant or exploring with her friends.