How to Survive College DebtFree

It's the 21st of the month, your food budget is blown & your starving. How does this keep happening? Are you really expected to eat nothing but Ramen noodles? (Not that they're not the perfect college culinary concoction.) I have good news & bad news.the answer is simply: budget.

Personally, I hate budgets. Budgeting is kind of like visiting the dentist. As much as I know I should do it, I would still prefer having my eyeballs paper cut.

But, let's consider the alternatives for a moment. Avoid the dentist & you could end up with some funky abscessed tooth that needs a root canal. Avoid a budget & you'll find yourself applying for credit cards & going into other debt that will ruin the next 15 years of your life (minimum). So, as un-fun as it sounds, we need to figure out how to run your finances instead of letting them run you. The first, most obvious, step in budgeting is to determine your income. How much money do your parents allot you each month? How much does your job bring in? Second, divide that money up into categories.

* We're skipping the step that "grown-ups" have to do which is tracking your expenses. It is quite sobering as well as downright depressing when you realize how unconsciously money slips through your fingers. Normally, you would calculate how much you actually spent in each category last month so you will know what adjustments to make.

Right now, we're skipping this step to get you up & running that much faster. Consider all categories of things you spend money on each month, semester & year. Examples are groceries, phone bill, textbooks, movies/entertainment, fraternity dues, power bill, haircuts, etc.

If you do a thorough job & end up with a ton of categories, just combine like ones until you end up with a list of 10-15 items. (Just make a note of which sub-categories fall into each group.) The third step is where we bring in your expenses. Now, keep all of your receipts & write down the amount you spend on each purchase. And, yes, it is exactly as much of a pain in the butt as it sounds.

However, you will have precise knowledge of when you are & aren't about to run out of money. Just subtract each expense from its appropriate category & write down how much you have left. My parents took actual envelopes when they were younger & put the category's allotted cash inside.

If you go to your "On-Campus Snacks" envelope on the 17th & have to pull out the last $5 bill, you might second-guess that particular latte you're craving & use it for ten $0.50 cups of coffee instead. Instead of envelopes, I just print out a simple table I made with my word processing software each month. At the top of each column, I wrote the name of the category & how much I'm able to spend. For each purchase I make, I subtract as I go & keep a running total of how much that imaginary envelope still holds. Envelopes or tracking sheet, if you actually do this, you'll never be screwed at month's end again which is a very liberating feeling.

Now you've got the power to control the situation instead of having to pray each time you use your debit card that it isn't rejected again. And to make matters even better, this system allows plenty of flexibility. For example, if you're dying to take this cute new girl out for dinner, but you're dining out/entertainment envelope is $20 short of what you want to spend, look around. Check your haircut envelope & skip one this month (or get a girl friend to try her hand at it if you're brave).

As painful as this was to hear, I want you to know that I'm just trying to save you from the fate I suffered. It was ugly. And, even worse, all of my suffering was completely unnecessary. You can do this! And you will be able to thank yourself in a few years when everyone around you is in debt & coming to YOU asking to borrow money!.

Jane Stefanowicz offers advice on many more college survival topics. Go to => for so much more!

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