College Connect: You can have what you want, even in college

Posted By sabew

by Theo Keith Saving and Investing in College

The person who started the idea that college students can’t afford what they want must have been bad at budgeting.

The truth is that many students can buy small luxury items, and they certainly can live comfortably. I say “many,” because this requires a job while in school, help from parents in paying for tuition, and a disciplined attitude toward saving and budgeting.

While people of all ages should identify the one or two things they really want in life and ignore other desires, this advice is especially important for college students. These luxuries can take many forms: going out with friends, eating good food, travel or nice clothes.

Unfortunately, this is the biggest roadblock for students, who end up saying they’re “broke” even though they have two jobs and parents helping them through school. We can’t do everything — we don’t have the money. It’s not that these students aren’t making money, it’s that they’re spending it as fast as they bring it in.

I’ve always enjoyed good food, and I set aside Friday nights as my chance to sample local restaurants. (I also go to sandwich shops for lunch about twice a week, but I try to pack a lunch as often as possible.) My dinner night has a few advantages. First, it keeps me out of the kitchen. For a bad cook like me, that’s a good thing. Good food and good service gives me joy. And I get to meet people in the community, and I’ve actually gotten story ideas this way.

Note that I don’t eat out seven days a week. I also don’t do a lot of other things, such as buying clothes. I haven’t spent money on clothing in three years (but I’m a guy who depends on clothing gifts, I might say).

Now that I’m working more than 20 hours a week at school, I’ve got a new luxury I’m working toward. Two years ago, I bought a 19-inch flatscreen TV for my dorm room. It worked great in a small room, but I’m in a bigger apartment now and it’s hard to see the screen from across the room. So, I’m shopping around for a larger TV.
I’ve decided a 32-inch screen is in the price range I want to pay — $400-500. I’m not buying one of the new LED models because, while the picture is excellent, I don’t need that. I could make the purchase comfortably now, but there’s a principle involved: I don’t think I should buy another TV when my current one works perfectly. So, I’m making myself work for it.

I’m saving $10-20 a week this semester, depending on my income. This will net me about $250 at the end of the semester. I plan to sell my 19-inch TV at the end of the semester, for which I hope to get about $100. None of that has me concerned.

But this does.

To make up the remaining cost, I’m planning to shop the Christmas deals at Best Buy and other electronics stores. It makes me turn green — and not as in money, either — to fight to my choice TV along with those crazy Black Friday shoppers, but I’ll line up at 5 a.m. with the rest of ’em for a good deal. And by then, I’ll know if I really want the TV.

Theo Keith, a senior at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, is a SABEW/National Endowment for Financial Education fellow. He has had internships at Bloomberg News in Detroit and Fox News Channel’s “Your World with Neil Cavuto,” and he plans a career in business journalism.

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