Bills and budgets: Tips for financial planning in college

By Savannah Sicurella 

When Kat Barker accepted a paid internship in Atlanta last summer, she didn’t expect her first paycheck to arrive so late. Barker, a senior political science major at UGA, said the sudden financial insecurity pushed her into panic-mode, but showed her the importance of budgeting and saving for the future.

“Having a cushion can decrease the stress that being financially insecure already adds to your plate and can make it easier to go to the next step in your life,” Barker said. “Savings are needed so you can use time to plan.”

David Jenkins, a wealth adviser with Vickery Financial Services, works with a range of age groups to manage and plan out their finances, from recent graduates to retirees. A common mistake he sees among the younger generation is an unwillingness to develop essential budgeting skills while still in college.

“One of the first things my boss told me when I started working was that there are two types of people: people who spend and then save, and then people who save and then spend,” said Jenkins, whose firm specializes in wealth management and financial planning. “You want to be the latter.”

Jenkins said the first step for students to begin establishing a budget and “gain a snapshot of their financial situation” is to take note of where they spend their money. From there, students can utilize financial planning resources such as Mint, a free budgeting application, or You Need a Budget, which costs $6.99 per month

“I think the purpose of a budget is to make you aware of your spending and see if you’re overspending in places that aren’t necessary spending and you can trim those, but really it’s just practicing those good decision-making habits,” Jenkins said.

Sarah Whatley, a senior microbiology major at UGA, has always held odd jobs to support herself through school. She is meticulous with the way she budgets her money — she maintains an Excel sheet to record every bill that needs to be paid, expenses for groceries and gas and a margin for savings.

Whatley said managing her income and expenses is her number-one tip for creating a solid budget.

An essential part of setting a budget and financial planning is “researching your environment” to make informed purchases, Whatley said, which can involve comparing and contrasting food costs at different groceries and taking advantage of school resources.

“It’s all about setting financial goals,” Whatley said. “It’s all about having self-control about your spending habits.”

Barker is a proponent of the 50-30-20 budgeting rule, which allocates 50% of income for rent and utilities, 30% for monthly expenses like gas and 20% for activities, noting she always keeps money for activities, or she “would shrivel up and die.”

Planning ahead doesn’t just mean setting money aside, Barker said. It also means accepting and prioritizing career-related opportunities that will benefit income and job prospects in the future. Students should pursue their passions, but “pursue them strategically,” Barker said.

“Try to consolidate your passions, your need for an income with future planning,” Barker said. “Just plan ahead of time, that’s where I see people really fall short.”

Jenkins’ final word of advice for students is to begin budgeting as early as possible.

“Learning to effectively budget in college is fantastic because it allows you to practice on a smaller scale before you enter post-graduation jobs,” Jenkins said. “After then, you have more income and expenses and it gets more complicated.”

Savannah Sicurella is a journalism student at the University of Georgia. The reporting for this article was completed before the campus closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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