Going to university and college is an amazing time to make memories and to prepare yourself for your dream career. It’s also a time for a lot of financial responsibility. Between juggling classes, a part-time job, and a long list of bills, it's common to feel stressed about money.

The good news is that you don't have to live in anxiety over your money until graduation. There are several small yet significant changes you can make to diminish your budget worries.

Create a No-Brainer Budget

Does the idea of making a budget sound daunting? Budgeting doesn't have to be as hard or time-consuming as you might think. Split your expenses into two sections: ones you can control and ones you can’t. For example, your rent and car payment are going to remain the same each month, but your eating out bill varies according to you.

First off, calculate your recurring bills like your rent, car payment, health and car insurance, utilities, and cell phone and internet bill. These are (largely) non-negotiable and should be budgeted for first.

Any money leftover is dedicated to your variable expenses. They might go towards the following:

  • Gas
  • Car maintenance
  • Groceries
  • Eating out/entertainment
  • Subscriptions and memberships
  • Shopping (like clothes, decor, and more)
  • Emergency fund/unexpected costs

When you are on a tight budget, you can’t afford every category. You might only have $50 leftover after you budget for groceries and gas. Instead of feeling discouraged by this, let it inspire you to be creative. Opt for a potluck dinner or movie night in with friends rather than going out. Do a clothes swap with people in your residence instead of paying $30 on a new shirt.

Make Saving Money Your Job

Saving money can be fun. No, really! Take an active approach to your finances as if you were getting paid to live frugally. Here are a few innovative ways to stretch your budget further:

  • Rent your textbooks or buy them from a former student
  • Read your textbooks through the campus library instead of buying them
  • Use the campus computer lab to save on internet and printing
  • Choose a simple meal at home rather than grabbing fast food
  • Use the library for free movies and books
  • Skip the gym membership and get fit with free local workout classes or with YouTube videos
  • Leave your car at your parents’ and rely on public transportation (usually discounted for students)
  • Make your fancy latte, smoothie, or chai tea at hom
  • Decorate your apartment or dorm with thrift store finds

Know When to Ask for Help

With the pressure to do well in school, it can feel embarrassing to admit you need help with your finances. Give yourself a break; you are still learning. It’s okay to seek out money help and doing so can help you prevent more problems later down the road.

If you are having trouble paying all of your bills or can’t stay within budget, talk to your parents or a family member about it. They can help you stay accountable to your budget or spot out a few changes you can make to save more money each month. You can also talk to a financial advisor at your local bank branch – their advice is free and they are there to help you find solutions that work for you.

Talk with your school's financial aid department as well. They might be able to point you to scholarship opportunities to help cover book costs. They can also alert you to any free financial classes that your community or university might offer.

Financial stress is common for students, but it doesn't have to be. Small changes can add up to real savings, letting you focus on getting a great education, making friends and incredible memories. 

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