Managing Your Finances in College

Oh, finances. As a college student, you may have just started to notice how much work, along with mental and emotional effort, that managing one’s own finances can take.

Starting a budget or figuring out how to pay down debt can feel overwhelming before you begin, but it’s true that even small steps toward a larger goal can make an enormous difference over time. Money can be an emotional topic, and a lot of people have all sorts of layers of ideology and emotion wrapped up in how they look at money, based on how their family looked at money. If you’re feeling shame or anxiety over your finances, remember this above all else: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:25-27

There’s grace for you, no matter what kind of situation you’re in, and there’s hope for your future. We’ve put together a simple guide to get you started on turning your financial situation around.

1. Create a budget

This can feel like a big mountain to climb before you start, but it’s important that you take a deep breath and at least give it a try. There’s a lot of fabulous tools online and via apps, like Mint.com, that can help you get organized when it comes to a budget. Your first step is to figure out how much money you’re making every month. While this can feel tricky if that number varies from month to month, do your best to find an average and record that amount.

After that, take a look at your bank account or credit cards, and separate what you’re spending into categories. Start with your fixed expenses: rent and utilities if you live in an apartment, subscriptions, insurance, car payment, etc. Next, figure out what you want to be saving for and where you want to be paying down debt. Are you hoping to go on a Spring Break trip in March with your roommates? Are you hoping to have enough to buy a used car next year? Do you have a big chunk of credit card debt to pay down because you overspent last month? While these categories can feel tough to put money toward, you will most definitely thank yourself later when you open up your bank account and can see that you have $500 saved up for that road trip to California.

After that, you can move on to your variable expenses: shopping, groceries, clothing, dorm-room decor, coffee, etc. This is the part of your budget where the fluff exists—the part you’ll have to most room to adjust how much you spend on a monthly basis. While it may feel like you barely have enough left over, there are definitely ways you can get creative in stretching yourself in these areas.

2. Figure out your perk options

Some banks award perks simply for being a student and opening an account. The same goes for certain credit cards, subscriptions, and other services. Figure out where you can get a discount for being a student and start taking advantage of your opportunities! Saving 5% might not feel like it’s making a big difference in your $40 bill at the grocery store, but over time, these savings can add up.

3. Get creative

Feeling like you don’t have enough to make ends meet? Try finding some creative ways to make money. Start a side hustle selling homemade jewelry on Etsy, or set up a Poshmark account to sell clothes and shoes you no longer wear. There are all sorts of apps and online opportunities that will do things like let you take surveys in exchange for rewards that you can turn into money or save a percentage of everything you purchase and give you money back.

Hold a bake sale with your roommates or hold a dorm-room sale where other students can go shop clothes you’d like to sell. There are lots of different ways you can make a little extra cash to put toward savings, paying down debt, or other funds.