By Kimberly Peloquin
When I imagined all of the things I’d learn in college, financial responsibility was not at the top of my list. It fell under the general life skills category, somewhere between doing my own laundry regularly and learning to cook.
I worked almost full time the summer before my freshman year in hopes that I would make enough to sustain myself without having to hold a job during the semester. And it worked — for that fall. Then spring came, and I didn’t have enough funds to sustain myself. I had to dip multiple times into the excess of my student loan, leaving me with little to deposit back into the loan to help pay it off.
In the fall of my sophomore year, I decided to join a sorority and pay my way, and that left me with money running short not even halfway through the semester. I desperately applied for jobs for two months before finally landing one, and even then, I found I wasn’t making as much as I needed to fund my lifestyle.
I used to consider myself better than most of my peers at money management but coming to college and having to support myself made me realize I was only able to manage the money I had because my expenses were extremely limited when I lived at home. I wasn’t buying my own food or clothes, mostly just coffee and ice cream with my friends. I didn’t pay for my doctor visits or my medications or the snacks I ate when I came home from school. I certainly didn’t have to pay money every month to be a member of a sorority, pay off loans, or pay for textbooks.
I had to sit down at my computer with an Excel spreadsheet and be completely honest with myself about my income and my expenses.
Looking through my bank statements, I found I outspent what I earned nearly every month since coming to college. Looking through what I was spending it on made me feel even more foolish; why was I spending money I didn’t have on things I didn’t need?
This hard dose of reality is something I think a lot of college students could benefit from. It’s hard to budget, but it’s not hard to take a good look at where your money is already going and make the conscious decision to spend less in certain areas.
Another thing I learned along the way was that budgeting becomes easier when you give yourself two different pools of money. At my job, I make both an hourly wage and tips. My hourly wage is paid every two weeks in a check, while I get my tips in cash each day that I work. I use my cash tips to pay for optional, fun things — such as going out to eat, new clothes, a new game — while I use my paychecks to cover more important or recurring expenses, like my doctor’s appointments, my sorority dues and my student loan repayments.
Supporting myself through college means making sacrifices. However, the learning process has proven incredibly beneficial and I know that I will be better off once I graduate than other students who didn’t have to learn how to manage their money the way that I did.
Kimberly Peloquin is a student at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications.