By Kristen Nemoto Jay

The key to budgeting your money is about self-control and mindful spending. Sounds easy enough, right? Sure, but is it easy to project and follow through? Not exactly. Think about the social engagements that you and your new friends will engage in during your college days. There will be temptations of concerts, dining out options, movie nights, etc. And although you’ll obviously steer clear of those $500 Bruno Mars tickets (or at least try to) and not go completely overboard on your spending, there are some healthy habits that you can take on now to help aid your quest for a stable budget each month.

Here are some “need” and “no need” budget practices to help you to manage your money wisely during your days in college and beyond:

Need: Get real honest with yourself and your money

In order to manage your budget, you’re going to have to know what exact number you’re working with. If you are unhappy with the outcome of the amount in your bank account each month, keep track of where it’s going. Notice if there are any trends that occur within your spending. Do you eat out a lot? Was there one month with a lot of birthday parties or social engagements that you didn’t account for? Do you splurge on random items that you don’t really need but purchase it because it’s on sale? These are the types of questions you could ask yourself when you’re trying to find the common trends that seem to get you into some trouble. Once you’ve pinpointed the spending habits, see if there are some pre-planned measures that you can take to prevent overspending. For example, if you know there are some social engagements to attend with friends, see if you could carpool to save on gas money or pitch in money towards a collaborative birthday present. Pre-plan and make your own meals so that you’re not tempted to eat out. Options are abound and can help steer your goals towards financial freedom.

No need: Set a really strict budget

Two to four years may seem like an eternity for school, but the truth is that your college days are fleeting. Don’t set yourself up to fail by setting unrealistic budget goals for your college days. Give yourself a break, literally, and go for that cup of coffee with friends or a night out bowling with your roommates. Budgets are set for a reason, but what’s the use of attending college if you’re not going to enjoy it? Live a little in your spending each month by creating a budget that’s simply for you to enjoy. You’ll find longevity in your goal settings if you give yourself some wiggle room.

Need: Keep track of everything

Along with becoming honest with yourself and the money that you have to keep track of each month, there’s the dreaded, but efficient way of staying on budget: a diligent tracking system. Luckily with all the technological advances of today you can keep track of all your spending by syncing your credit card or bank account to an online app of your choice. Some apps help separate and keep your purchases in order for you, letting you know how much money you have leftover to save or spend. Another way to keep track is by saving your receipts and manually type in your spending in an excel document. Something that looks like this:

  Rent Groceries Miscellaneous Savings
  $400.00 $100.00 $300.00 $200.00
1/1/2021 -$400     -$200.00
1/2/2021   $24.50    
1/4/2021     $16.00 (movies)  
… etc.        
Total $0.00 $75.50 $284.00 $0.00

Another way to do it, if you’re not inclined to using a computer or smartphone, is keeping a budget journal and writing all of your spending in a calendar. Any one of these practices will allow you take control of your budget and relieve you of any surprises at the end of the month. It is a little tedious, but the only way to know for sure how much money you have leftover is to keep track of every dollar (and penny) that you spend. It takes a lot of discipline but it’s worth it when you see your savings start to rise and your monthly debt subside.

No Need: Steal from your funds to pay for other miscellaneous expenses

It’s the end of the month and you have a leftover of $20 in your grocery funds. Do you spend it on a trip to the movies with friends, carry it over to next month’s grocery fund or place it into your savings? Ultimately, this is your choice as you will have the best discretion when it comes time to decide what to do with the extra money. First things first is to give yourself a pat on the back for staying under budget! Second step is to just prioritize what you want to accomplish for the next month. If you want to increase your savings, then transfer that money into your savings. If you want to spend the night out having fun with your friends, go for it. The point is to not purposefully take leftovers from some of your funds and put it towards another as pretty soon you’ll be purposefully eating canned goods for the month just so that you can save up to actually buy those Bruno Mars concert tickets.

Kristen Nemoto Jay is a local freelance writer and editor, born and raised on the Windward side of O‘ahu. Before starting her freelance writing company Write On Stripes, Nemoto Jay was an editor for Morris Media Network’s Where Hawaii market, specializing in publishing print travel magazines, local lifestyle, and culturally focused stories.