Semester of savings: tips for new students

Lorna Wounded Head is the Family Resource Management Field Specialist at SDSU.

Lorna Wounded Head is the Family Resource Management Field Specialist at SDSU.

Lorna Saboe-Wounded Head, Family Resource Management Field Specialist SDSU Extension

Welcome to South Dakota State University! Whether you are new to campus or continuing your studies, creating a budget for the new semester can bring out the forward-thinking financial manager in you. With the uncertainty created by COVID-19, developing a spending plan is more important than ever. How long will you be on campus? Will your job be available if the campus closes again? What can you do to keep yourself healthy while purchasing necessities and meeting your basic needs?

There are many great budgeting resources available to everyone for finding the resources and tools that help you to balance your income and spending needs to fit how you like to do things. Throughout the semester, The SDSU Extension Family Finance site has articles that provide information about a variety of financial topics.

For now, let’s focus on the budget, otherwise known as a spending plan. A balanced budget accounts for all income and expenses with a positive or net-zero balance at the end, and a good one makes a plan for savings. Find a budget template online or just write down all your income and expenses to figure out if it is balanced. College life brings different expenses than when you lived with mom and dad. Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you figure out your expenses and income.

Is this my situation right now?

It’s all fine and dandy to say that you will get a job this semester and make an extra $100 a month, but until you have that job offer in hand, it’s better to be a little more stingy in the meantime.

You might get a position that pays more and means you can add more to your savings and late-night ice cream runs, or you could feel the burn of competing with all the other incoming students and be out of luck longer than you thought. Either way, it’s best to be prepared, and you can come back and revise your budget later when you know for sure that circumstances have changed.

What could go wrong?

The things that are going well right now might not always be that way. I’m sure that a six-year-old, hand-me-down laptop will get you through another year, but you should probably set aside some emergency money just in case it dies during finals week. The best budgets take into account tomorrow’s expenses as well as today’s. Set your goal, create a timeline to hold yourself accountable and continually add funds in incremental amounts until you have that gold star in your pocket. Making sure that you have enough money allocated to your car so that you can cover gas and oil changes helps you know that those once-in-a-while expenses won’t catch you unaware. Remember, your emergency fund is there to fund ONLY real emergencies, not your midnight chocolate cravings.

How will I stick to it?

Falling apart on one aspect of the budget can throw everything else out of balance, and before you know it, you’re three pizza boxes deep into your next month’s rent. College finances don’t always leave a lot of wiggle room either, so find a method that helps you follow through with your plans. Some good recommendations are to write everything down, use cash if swiping a card is too easy for you and keep your budget updated to be as relevant to your situation as possible. Search for an app that you can use that links your bank accounts so all your transactions are instantly tracked.

Remember that budgets and spending plans are personalized things, so what works for you might not work for your roommate and vice versa. Learning how to create a realistic budget and sticking to it is one of the best things you can do for your future.