If there’s a time when a budget is really needed, it’s when you’re in college. But if there’s a time when it’s difficult to stick to a budget, it’s during college! If you’re working and in school, or putting yourself through college, every dollar counts. But it probably seems like everyone around you is eating out every night of the week. How do you withstand the peer pressure and save your pennies?
Here are four ideas to recharge your commitment to take control of your wallet.
1. Have a Plan for Meals
Most college students have a meal plan with the school they attend—even commuter students. If you are paying room and board, take advantage of this! Learn all the food options on campus and what has already been paid for with your room and board fees. The dining hall might not be your favorite (ours was nicknamed “The Rot,” and you can imagine what the food was like!), but there is usually something edible there that will save you from a Chipotle run.
If you’re off campus and buying your own groceries, plan your meals. If you don’t mind eating the same thing every day, cook a batch of chicken and veggies, or make sandwiches on Sunday nights and eat them throughout the week. Have a budget for eating out that’s separate from than your grocery budget, and stick to both.
2. Be Honest With Your Friends
If you’re struggling to stick to your budget because of peer pressure, be honest with your friends. Tell them you’re trying to be diligent about saving money, and explain that if you decline dinner dates or another fro-yo outing, it’s not personal—you just can’t afford it. While this might seem embarrassing at first, your friends will understand! Some may even be inspired by you and serve as accountability partners in your goal.
3. Use Cash
For some students, this won’t work. But if possible, designate a specific budget for each area of your life—groceries, gas/transportation, eating out, cosmetics, entertainment—and keep that budget in cash. You can put the cash in specific envelopes or mark it with sticky notes in your wallet. When the cash runs out in one category, don’t borrow from another! It’s gone—to borrow would be to go over budget. If, after a few months, you see you aren’t budgeting enough for gas and too much for groceries, adjust the amounts. But don’t steal from your necessity funds to bolster your spending.
4. Think Long Term
Finally, think about the long term. A budget is not for boring adults. It’s for people who want to honor God with their finances and establish diligence and stewardship in their lives. It prepares you for your career and future marriage. And ultimately it gives you incredible freedom, because when others have no savings and a lot of debt, you can have the opposite—or at least a good plan for getting OUT of debt after college!
For more information, I highly recommend taking Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace course. Many college students can take this for free! Check with your college or a nearby church for classes.