Friends eating pizza together in the kitchen

Going away for college can bring some of the most exciting times we young adults will experience in our lives. That said, it is very easy to get carried away and blow your whole budget that was supposed to last a semester, in a matter of weeks. I learned early on the ATM machine is your best friend at times, and others you just want to bash your fist through it after checking your balance. To avoid that happening to you, let me share a few things I learned while away:

  1. Have a budget.
  2. Know when to say “no” to your friends when they ask you to go out.
  3. Know what not to spend your money on, because there is a lot things I looked back on after purchasing and just keep asking myself, “Why?”

Your Budget

Budgeting is essential. I cannot stress that enough; I saw people blow their entire year’s spending money in a matter of a couple months because they spent blindly and didn’t understand once your account reaches zero, Mom and Dad won’t always be there to put more money in it.

There are really three categories that most college kids can budget their money in and pretty much get by for the year as long as they don’t go over their spending limits. I broke my budget into 1. Food; 2. Extra-curriculars; and 3. Spare Change: money for games, apparel, and pretty much anything else that a college kid may need.

Food is huge because even if you have meal plan at school, the dining centers usually close around 10 p.m. So having some money for a late-night snack or just wanting to go to a nice restaurant you heard about is great because eating the same cafeteria food all year gets old fast.

The “Extra-curriculars” part of my budget was pretty much whatever I needed for fun. For me, I was elated I had this pool of money because I eventually joined a fraternity, and it wasn’t cheap. So I used my “Extra-curriculars” money to pay for dues, and also just for whatever we decided to do on the weekends, whether that was going to see a movie or going to a party.

The “Spare Change” section of my budget was essential because I got very sick in the dorms and needed to go buy NyQuil about once a month and needed to buy bottled water, too. It’s little things like this that mom or dad used to buy that never cross a kid’s mind until we need it.

Tough Sticking to the Budget

What I struggled with most at school my first year was telling my roommates “no” on a night they wanted to go out. What college kids want to be stuck in their dorm room on a Friday or Saturday night doing homework while their friends are out having a good time? Not me! But occasionally I had to stay in. It was especially hard towards the end of the year, though, when I had to say no because I just couldn’t afford it.

I just want to point out that I learned being able to pay for something doesn’t mean you can afford it. Being able to afford it means you can spend the money on it, and it not really affect you financially. When you have $100 or less in your account, and you’re still going out three nights a week, you either have a problem or just are extremely fiscally irresponsible. Even though sometimes it wasn’t the most fun staying in the dorms studying or playing video games on a Friday night, it was still much better than being completely broke and having to rely on the dining center to survive.

Do You Need That?

There are going to be lots of things that you want to buy, and may think you even need. But once you start purchasing things that aren’t essentials, that’s when your budget starts to fail and you begin to go broke. One thing I thought I needed was Jamba Juice at the Rec. They make probably the best smoothies I’ve ever had, and they can also put protein in them so you don’t have to drink the nasty, powdery protein drinks. The only drawback to this wonderful invention of “Jamba Juice” is that each shake can cost anywhere from $5 to $7. Once I realized how big of an expense that was, that was a short-lived luxury.

Another thing that most people wouldn’t even think of is your books for class. You don’t need all of the recommended books on the list. I found out after going to classes for two weeks that I didn’t need half the books I bought. When you go to return them at the end of the semester, you get less than 50 percent of what you paid for them, unless you rent your books. So I suggest starting a class before deciding which books you really need to buy.

In Retrospect

Now that I’ve been away at college for a couple of years, I know I’ll finish my career being a lot more careful about budgeting and then staying on track with my budget. I plan to take what I’ve learned into my after-college life as well. By spending my time at a bank this summer, I’ve come to realize the importance of fiscal responsibility and how putting a budget in place can impact your overall happiness.

Editor’s Note: Tommy Wilson will be a sophomore at Illinois State University this fall. He’s spending the summer helping INB as a Summer Credit Intern. He is working towards a degree in business administration.