By Jamie Miller
If most college students can relate to anything, it is the feeling of being broke. Financial constraint takes many forms; for me it is both figuratively and literally the struggle to decide if I should buy the lilies at the grocery store or save the extra $7 for next week’s budget.
To many college students, the rigidness of budgeting can be a daunting concept. Findings from the National Student Financial Wellness Study, which surveyed 18,795 undergraduate students at 52 colleges and universities across the country, found that seven out of 10 college students feel stressed about their finances.
As one of the nearly 60% of students who feel this way, I decided to counteract the stress by learning the art of weekly budgeting. I began my freshman year here at UGA, using a notes app in my iPhone to keep track of my weekly spending.
On this notes page I categorized each expense by food, clothes, rent, utilities, entertainment, etc. followed by cost breakdowns of how much was spent on what. For instance, one of my most common weekly food entries was Chick-Fil-A. Beneath “food” I would list out what I purchased, when I purchased it and the cost. This allowed me to carefully monitor my spending in real time to ensure I stayed within my budget for the week.
After seeing that I spent the majority of my money on things like food, transportation and necessity items, I decided the best way for me to manage my spending was to continue that weekly notes page, and more importantly, set a dollar amount boundary for my bank account.
The theory of creating this boundary balance is simple: I want to keep my spending in check so that there is always enough money in my account to cover expenses plus a surplus for emergencies. My technique ensures a safety net in case an unexpected expense occurs that was not factored into my weekly budget. As long as my account balance does not dip below my magic boundary number, my mental financial alarms will remain sound.
The beauty behind this method is knowing that if I stick to my planning and maintain an account balance that is above the set boundary, I can treat myself to the little things in life that brighten my day, like those $7 lilies from Trader Joe’s.
For many students, the struggle is not focused around deciding when to treat yourself within budget; it is deciding if you need to eat Ramen noodles in order to pay the bills. To those of you who are struggling in this way, you are not alone.
Everyone has been in some sort of financial distress at one time or another. To you I say this: it is worthwhile to pursue finding a budget that works for you. If you are unsure about where to start, begin by downloading a budgeting app on our smartphone or laptop.
And while on this path to finding financial soundness, please make sure to add self-care into your budget. Money cannot buy happiness, but treating yourself to that small thing that makes you smile is good for the soul and worth working into your planning.
As one of my favorite authors, Tara Schuster, said, “Seven-dollar lilies won’t ruin you and they won’t make your poor; they will make you stronger. You are stronger when you treat yourself well. What are your lilies? Please go buy them today.”
Jamie Miller is studying journalism at the University of Georgia. She is a 2020 Cox-SABEW Fellow, a training program in partnership with UGA’s Cox Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management & Leadership.