When I mentioned the possibility of sharing my experiences from my gap year thus far (and more as it continues to unfold), the topic of budgeting/money saving advice seemed to be pretty popular! It's not something I ever really considered talking about here (I thought it might be too boring!) and my advice isn't anything truly groundbreaking - but it has worked for me, so there's a fair chance it will work for you. Whether or not you're saving specifically for college, though this will be designed for that purpose, the principles can be applied to any other form of large financial commitment.
A couple disclaimers: this is not intended to be an exhaustive course in economics or budgeting. Dave Ramsey already did that, and I can't compete with his marketing team. ;) What it is intended to do is connect you with some resources or ideas to make the principles you already know a little bit easier to implement!
And finally, I'm not a financial advisor. I'm just figuring it out as I go along. So take this with a grain of salt. :)
5 WAYS TO SAVE MORE MONEY FOR COLLEGE
1. YOU DON'T REALLY NEED THAT
This is quickly both the easiest and hardest part of money-saving; and you already know about it, but it needs to be said again, and frequently: the only real way you will ever save money is if you stop spending it. Plain and simple. Of course, you need to buy some things to live; but some things that you consider "needs" in your day-to-day life, may actually be privileges that you should limit during this season of saving*.
- Buying a black coffee instead of a latte saves you $2+ every time you buy it. Or better, bring your own coffee to work (especially if you're living at home in your interim year + the coffee is free!).
- Carpooling with friends, public transportation or walking (if feasible) can save you a lot in gas money.
- You don't need a new dress for every event - borrow + share clothes with your friends/sisters to feel new without spending!
- Pack your lunch. I know it's not as fun as grabbing something on the go, but the pros outweigh the cons: not only is it more economical, it's also a chance to be a lot healthier!
I'm pretty sure the most talked-about aspect of money-saving is budgeting. I mean, we throw the word around all the time: "I'm on a budget," "I need to be better with my budget," "I'm trying to budget this month," - but it's always used in negative terms.
I prefer to think about it this way: instead of feeling guilty every time you spend a few extra dollars on a latte or a new mascara, you could be enjoying that treat after a long day at work, because you know it fits in your budget.
The way I see it, budgeting isn't just about cutting back, it's about being aware of where your money is going. I use EveryDollar as a formatting tool: you estimate (as close as possible) how much money you should be bringing in each month, make allowances for every possible spending category, and dock the rest in savings. You're not actually moving the money around in the app, but it's a way to chart what you want to spend or save. (Not an ad, I just really like the tool!)
- Budgeting $30 a month for coffee might be really important to you: so just plan for it!
- If you eat out regularly, make a plan to spend there by cutting back in another area.
- For me, I always give myself a little shopping allowance, outside the bare minimum expenses (phone bill, rent check, etc). I know if I try to quit cold turkey on extracurricular expenses it just won't happen, so instead I work it into my savings plan. Maybe it means I have to skimp on eating out, but I'd rather buy a new jacket, and that's just me.
- Weigh what's important for you in your lifestyle, make room for it, and you'll find you're a lot less anxious about your finances.
3. PLAN AHEAD
Just like with eating healthfully, it's important to leave allowance for unseen challenges in your budget. If you put aside just a bit every month for emergencies, even if it's just $25, you're essentially "paying forward" for whenever something does happen. Obviously $25 isn't near enough to fix a car breakdown, but odds are, most months you won't even use it - and overtime, that builds up. When you do have to use it, even if it's not enough to cover the entire cost (whatever that may be - broken appliances, oil change, overweight luggage at the airport, etc) it's at the very least going to lighten the load. The key is not spending it on little things, even when your month is uneventful!
4. TRACK YOUR SPENDING
Right in line with budgeting and planning how much you're going to spend each month, you also need to keep track of it! It's very easy to forget about those little $5-$25 purchases, but those are the ones that are going to kill your savings plan much faster than larger purchases, because they're small, we forget about them, and we therefore end up making a lot more of them. I'm trying to be better about this, but ideally, every time I spend something, even if it's just in cash, I type it into the notes section of my phone. At the end of the month you can learn at least 2 things from the data:
1) if you're actually spending a lot more/less than you think you are, and
2) where your fiscal weak points are. Being aware is the first part of solving the problem!
Also, save your hard change - you'd be surprised at how quickly it adds up!
5. ADVENTURES ARE FREE
It's embarrassing to have to be the one always refusing dinner out, because you're on a tight budget - so instead, be open about your goals. People respect you if you're just clear with them: a simple "I'm saving for college" goes a long way in the respect category!
- A get together to clean out someone's closet (snacks, music, dancing around in your old prom dress? I think yes. XD)
- A girl's-night-in to do some baking.
- Saturday morning hike.
- An afternoon at the library (off-campus, if you're in school, because otherwise that's just a homework night. ;)
- Going out for dessert only (a lot more affordable, still just as fun!)
Just because you're on a budget doesn't mean you can't get together with friends! And of course, it's really about the people you're with, not what you're doing, that makes it a good time.
*Just another key thing to keep in mind: this is a season. Life ebbs and flows, and you won't always have to be so financially tight if you're good about your money early on. :)
I hope that's helpful to you in your college-saving endeavors!
How do you save money?