Financial advice for the newly independent
Your first taste of independence can be a lot of fun, but it comes with a handful of responsibilities, too.
One of the biggest things you have to learn is how to manage your money (or lack thereof). These beginner tips will help you get organized and save a few bucks while you’re at it.
Having a basic budget can go a long way. Don’t know where to start? Luckily, there are a lot of straightforward programs out there that make money management a breeze. One of the best is Mint.com. Mint.com allows you to link all of your bank accounts, credit cards, and loans to one site, so you can see all your finances clearly laid out in front of you. It tracks your transactions, allows you to categorize your spending, and then lays it out in tidy graphs so you can see where your money is going. Once you know where you’re spending your money, putting together a budget is easy (and Mint will help you with that, too).
Lots of people have change jars, but they take a long time to add up. Instead, start a jar for $5 bills. At the end of each day, put any $5 bills you have in your wallet in the jar (unless it’s reserved for something specific, like picking up milk). The money adds up quickly, and you can use it for any large expenses that aren’t in your usual budget (like a trip home to see your family, or Christmas shopping). For many people, the small bills in their wallets typically go to non-essential expenses, like late-night snacks from the cafeteria, magazines at the checkout counter, or an extra coffee before class. If the cash is sitting at home in a savings jar instead of in your pocket, you won’t be tempted to spend it on things you don’t need. (Note: this tip isn’t for those with sketchy roommates – if things regularly go missing from your side of the room, you probably shouldn’t leave cash lying around).
One of the easiest ways to save money around the house is to make your own household cleaners. All those bottles of scented, task-specific cleaners add up. A 2.5L bottle of white vinegar on the other hand, costs about $3, cleans just about anything, and lasts forever. One part water mixed with one part vinegar will clean and disinfect just about every hard surface in your house (except marble! But you live in student housing, where marble tends to be scarce). Most importantly, the ‘vinegary’ smell vanishes as soon as it dries, and just leaves a natural clean smell. Lemons are also great, especially for polishing metals and cleaning up soap scum or hard water deposits. Baking soda is a good cleaner for really tough stains. Sprinkle baking soda over the stain (say in a really dirty oven) and let it sit, then scrub it off with steel wool and warm water (obviously don’t do this on surfaces that are easily scratched).
Learn to Cook
Pre-packaged foods are expensive, as are premade sauces, baked goods, pre-seasoned meats, etc. Making food from scratch can save you a lot of money, especially if you learn to eat in-season and locally. If you can’t even handle basics like scrambling eggs or boiling water, it might be worth investing in a good beginner’s cookbook, such as *Clueless in the Kitchen* by Evelyn Raab.
Avoid late fees
Late fees are a waste of money, but you would not believe how much money the average first-year spends on them. Figure out when things are due (this includes tuition payments, rent, any bills, as well as things like library books and movie rentals) and make sure you write all those deadlines down in your agenda, on your calendar, on the back of your hand, or wherever you keep track of your schedule. Better still, if you have a calendar in your phone, program them in with an alarm (set it for the day before they’re due), so you can’t possibly forget about them.
Save on textbooks
Textbooks are expensive. Really expensive. But depending on the class, you may not have to buy them all. Before you buy your books for a class, check out the library to see if they carry them. Not only is there a good chance they have the books available for check out, there’s also a good chance they have a few copies on hand that can’t be signed out, but can be read in the library. This way, they can guarantee there’s always a copy or two kicking around. This may not be ideal for courses with a ton of daily reading assignments, but can be a huge money-saver for courses with more sporadic assignments.