Struggling financially is to being in college what being nervous is to giving a big speech. Not everyone experiences it, but most of us do and it can have a major impact on your ability to focus or complete the task at hand.
The key to overcoming financial difficulties on your way to a degree is two-fold: accepting the challenge and being willing to do something about it. The words of renowned poet and Nobel Prize Winner T.S. Eliot come to mind: “If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?”
When you look at your financial situation, ask yourself if there are areas in which you can grow or become more disciplined. Financial discipline does not necessarily equate to being cheap, but it more often than not leads to better planning and devising new and unusual methods of managing or making money. Here are some life hacks to help any student get a better handle on their finances and make the path to a degree a little bit smoother.
The Envelope System
Holding yourself to a strict budget is somewhat difficult to do without a process in place that supports that idea. A simple system to implement involves envelopes. Grab an envelope for groceries, one for gas (if you own a car) and another for other expenses. Determine how much you can afford to spend during each pay period, take out that amount in cash and place it in the envelopes. Once it’s gone, do not allow yourself to spend any more money on these items until your next paycheck. The envelope system is also known as “zero-based budgeting” as the money is placed in envelopes and eventually becomes zero once the money is spent, according to DebtSteps.com.
While you may fall short of your goals, the envelope system will show you where you can spend more efficiently and what items have more value. For example, you may cut down on unnecessary driving to avoid overspending and potentially incurring debt. Physically seeing how much money you have to spend makes it a lot easier to be frugal when times are tough.
Don’t Shop Hungry
This isn’t just advice, it’s a fact backed up by scientific research. University of Minnesota researchers found that hunger activates behaviors associated with the desire to acquire things, leading consumers to purchase items beyond food that they either don’t need or can’t afford.
The research suggests that our internal message of “I want food” is often times boiled down to “I want” when we head into the supermarket. Put simply, make sure you eat something before you go to the store, or your grocery envelope will be empty long before you intended.
Make Use of Budgeting Apps
Whether it’s a money management app or a coupon manager, today’s budget-savvy individual has a ton of digital tools at their disposal. Linking your phone to your wallet is remarkably easy, and with your bank and credit card statements just a click away, you can constantly track and regulate what you’re spending. Smartphone apps like Spending Tracker, Goodbudget (which uses a digital envelope system) and Mint.com simplify the basics of money management, from monitoring your expenses and bank balance to setting up a budget and financial goals.
When it comes to finding deals that will make pinching pennies easier than ever, your phone is a valuable asset with a never-ending list of tools, whether it is a nearby restaurant with a valuable special or a close-out sale from a local clothing retailer. Just make sure your information is secure and password protected, as losing your phone may prove rather costly.
Online textbook rentals are available through a number of services and can prove to be a lot cheaper than buying books each semester. With the average price of a new textbook at $79 ($59 for a used textbook) in 2013, according to the National Association of College Stores, the idea of saving up to 80% on textbooks by renting them on Amazon.com sounds good.
The purchase of a textbook can ultimately prove to be quite a hassle when it comes time to sell, so renting them out and taking advantage of these services can be financially beneficial and less time consuming than trying to get rid of a textbook that will be quickly out of date.
Make Loyalty Pay Off
Stores that provide loyalty cards for free and give discounts on various items every time you shop can be valuable for a financially savvy student. Instant savings or vouchers for discounts off your next purchase are a common part of these programs, and offers can sometimes be combined in one transaction to provide even more savings.
Should you find yourself using or applying for a credit card, be sure to find one with ample rewards. Some cards will offer 0% interest on certain purchases, or cash back and airline miles. You could easily fund a relaxing night out with cash back or the air fare for a summer vacation with the miles you rack up.
Look for Alternative Clothing Providers
Thrift stores like The Salvation Army, second-hand clothing retailers like Plato’s Closet and consignment shops can offer a treasure trove of clothing that will allow you to create a style of your own without spending a fortune on the latest, hippest thing to grace mall storefront windows. These stores sell merchandise at a fraction of the price of new clothing and offer you the chance to embrace vintage as a style, because we all know that fashion is just a cycle with new designers constantly giving a fresh twist to classic looks.
Be a Guinea Pig
If you have a bit of time on your hands and are in pursuit of a quick buck, sign up to be a participant in a research study. Some may be as simple as filling out a quick survey while others may involve you sampling a product or participating in a focus group. The reward for doing so may not be enough money to feed the entire family, but it might just be enough to top off your tank or at the very least ease the burden of your expenses.