By: Mandy Pennington
In a world full of philosophies and idioms, opinions and morals, we find that living is a tightrope walk over the large abyss of failure and discontentment. We grow up hearing about Dave Ramsey and credit card debt and mortgages and student loans, and are warned to save every penny lest we end up shoeless. When we get to high school, we thank God that our parents still pay for our phone bill, work overtime at our minimum wage jobs, and try to get good grades so maybe we won’t have to take out quite as many student loans when we get to college.
Then, when we finally get to college, we encounter a huge clash between these two values of money and relationships. Suddenly, we are on our own, allowed to do whatever we want with our hard-earned money without anyone looking over our shoulders (that is, unless your mom has access to your bank account). We show up on campus and within a week we’ve made those instant freshman-year BFFs, and we find ourselves going out to eat every other night and spending our life savings on gas to get to the mall or the movie theater or, in our case here at Greenville, the nearest Walmart. We can’t just say no to all of these activities and stop hanging out with our friends, but we wonder how our friends have all that money. (Secret: maybe they don’t, either. Suggest some free activities.)
This is a conundrum that I’ve struggled with throughout my time at Greenville. How do you live on a budget and stick to it when you are a part of a friend group that loves to go out to eat all of the time? How do you manage a coffee budget of $10 a week if you have more than two coffee dates that week? I’ve found myself at both ends of the spectrum over the last four years. During my freshman and sophomore years, I didn’t work a job, and was living off of my savings from high school (and, of course, giant student loans). When you’re a freshman, college is so incredibly exciting and new friendships are so incredibly exciting and you want to do anything and everything you can. This was definitely the case for me. I was the queen of 3am Walmart runs and “I just NEED a Mcflurry right now or I’ll simply die,” and this kept my friendships alive and flourishing for awhile. I loved to take a road trip to Fairview Heights and shop with girl friends, and I didn’t think twice about the large amounts of money I was spending on things at Walmart that I didn’t really need — things I just bought because I was there. However, what happened was simple — I just ran out of money, and even so I would find myself going out to eat with friends, promising to buy nothing and then unable to resist when the menu was placed in front of me.
My junior year, I got four jobs and saw the error of my irrational money-spending ways. I confined myself to the tightest budget of my life — one that was basically just no spending whatsoever. I didn’t buy groceries because I could just eat at the D.C. I didn’t spend money on gas because I could either get a friend to drive me or just not go. I didn’t buy any clothes because I didn’t need them (okay, that one was actually completely valid). I found myself turning down friends’ offers to hang out and spending nights alone because I couldn’t bring myself to spend a dollar on fries at McDonald’s. Then, of course, my friends would always offer to buy my food for me, which made me feel guilty, because I knew that technically, I had the money in the bank, but I was just refusing to spend it.
The reality is that there is absolutely a happy medium between the two. I’ve begun to find it here at the very end of my college career, though perhaps now I’ve swung a little too far the other direction. However, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that I don’t regret the money I spent on large amounts of candy at Walmart my freshman year, because that time at Walmart fostered my friendships. I don’t regret buying the most expensive and frivolous lattes at Adam Bros every week, because I had some of the most down-to-earth and meaningful conversations with people across those tables. My advice to you is not to become frivolous, but that you make a budget and try to stick to it. However, don’t take it too far. At some point, you will learn that relationships are what matter at the end of the day. Count your pennies, but don’t let them take away the moments that should count.
TIPS FOR BUDGETING:
Keep a spreadsheet and update it biweekly. I usually have two spreadsheets; one for income and one for spending. I track both in two-week periods so that I can see how much I spend vs. how much I made per pay period. I also split it up into categories like gas, groceries, eating out, etc., so I can see where I’m spending my money.
After you’ve been tracking your spending for a while, look over your spreadsheet and see what patterns you’ve made. Is there something you’re spending too much money on? If so, set yourself a maximum amount of money you can spend on that certain thing.
There are two ways to do this: You can take out a certain amount of cash every two weeks and only allow yourself to spend however much you have for those two weeks, or you can use a credit/debit card for everything. Using a card is the easiest way for me to track my spending, because I can go back and look through my bank account at the end of two weeks as opposed to keeping track of everything on the spot. I’ve heard of both ways working very well, though.
If being aware of your spending is not enough, make set amounts for yourself and don’t allow yourself to exceed those amounts. Currently, I have a gas budget of $100 per month and food budget of $160 per month. I usually do not spend that much on either, which makes me feel good. Shooting high at first will be more helpful than setting a budget that you can’t keep.
There are plenty of apps that can help you keep track of your budget as well! Check out free apps such as Mint, Goodbudget, Wally, Spendee, and more.