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Even if graduation day is four years in the future, it’s actually closer than it feels. And if this is your last year of college, the reality that you’ll be on your own soon is probably sinking in fast right about now. Sh*t’s getting real, right?
Thinking about being 100-percent independent, maybe for the first time ever, might be an anxious thought, especially when it comes to making sure you have enough money to, you know, survive. But don’t panic just yet. Now is the time to foster the habits that are going to lead to financial success — or at the very least, financial stability — after graduating. Don’t wait until you’re finally on your own to begin changing your relationship toward your money.
- Set a budget, and take it seriously. Decide how much money you want to be spending in the major categories of your life: food, clothes, entertainment, living expenses, etc. You might need to adjust this budget over time to make it more realistic, but try to hold yourself accountable. A spreadsheet can help if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
- Know where your money goes. I mean all of it. Record how much you spend on what, so that your bank account never surprises you by being way emptier than you assumed it would be. Even those little purchases — a bag of chips here and a quick Uber ride there — add up quicker than you think. Don’t expect yourself to be able to remember all this info without actually writing it down.
- Get in the habit of checking your balance, so you’re never surprised — and so you’ll be aware if there’s any suspicious spending in your account that wasn’t done by you. People who’ve gotten ahold of your account information often make small purchases first to test whether you’ll notice.
- Set aside money for savings. Got something big you’d like to buy? If it’s not specifically in the budget, practice setting aside a little money each week for it, instead of dipping into money that’s been earmarked for other expenses. It’ll give you something to look forward to, and you won’t find yourself scrambling to make up the money that you spent. And even if there’s nothing on your radar, anything you can save will come in handy for that car purchase or first apartment down payment. Saving what you can is a really solid habit for healthy finances. If you want to get ahead of the game, think about putting aside what you can — 20 bucks a semester, even — in a retirement account. You may not have a lot of dollars to your name right now, but you have a big advantage over almost everyone else preparing for retirement: time. Whatever you can set aside early will only grow — it’s not too early to start building a nest-egg.
- Do you really need that? Be careful with the word “need” — it’s easy to use it as an excuse. If you’re not positive whether something’s an absolute necessity or not, challenge yourself to do without it for a week or a month, and see whether you get used to making do. You’d be surprised how often you don’t really need something you thought you couldn’t do without.
- Get a credit card, but only if you’re sure you can make your payments. Having a credit history and a good credit score can help you get your first apartment, but if you don’t think you can keep up on the payments, skip it. No credit score is better than a bad score.
- Find an app that works for you. Mint is popular and free, and many budgeting apps are free for students. Acorns, PocketGuard, and Albert are all worth looking into.
- Watch out for impulse spending. A lot of impulse spending happens when we are looking for that great dopamine hit that our brains give us when we make a novel purchase, but don’t let that trick you into spending what you didn’t intend. When you can, wait a few days before you click “checkout” to guard against impulsive purchases, or make a list of what you’re going out to buy, and stick to it.