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Living Within Your Means

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Being a college student often means being in a period of transition and adjustment. Perhaps one of the most major adjustments for college students (both traditional and non-traditional) is adjusting to living within your means while in school.

Financial aid is intended to help you meet your educational costs, but not to cover all of a student’s costs. For students with spouses and dependents, financial aid typically does not provide for all of a family’s expenses.

On this page:

Budget

Living within your means is easier when you have a budget to work from. Creating a budget helps you to determine your core expenses while also highlighting any unnecessary discretionary spending. Monitor your budget on a regular basis and make adjustments as needed to your spending to meet your goal.

A great way to stay within your budget is to make a shopping list, especially for groceries. Making and following a shopping list help you to stay on budget and avoid impulse purchases. Using coupons for items on your list can help you to stay within your budget too.

You may be surprised with just how much you can save when you follow your budget. Don’t be quick to spend your new savings. Save it for any unanticipated costs like car repair.

Make budgeting simple by using GradReady. It’s free to use for students and their families.

Helpful Hints

Building a budget from scratch can be difficult. For many students, setting a savings goal can make creating and following a budget more attainable. Try using the SMART goal strategy.

  • Specific: Saying you will “save money” isn’t enough. Setting a specific goal like “save enough to study abroad in France” is better.
  • Measurable: How else will you know if you have met or are close to your goal? In our example, we’ll say the study abroad trip will cost $3,500 and you have $900 in savings. This is how you will measure your goal.
  • Attainable: The goal should be something you can actually reach. If your planned study abroad trip is next month and you only have $900 saved, your goal is probably not attainable; however, if you have an entire semester to save, attaining your goal is more likely.
  • Relevant: Your goal should apply to your needs. Continuing our study abroad example, it should somehow benefit your progress toward your degree or with your resume.
  • Time-Related: Your goal needs a target date. For example, your goal could be to study abroad next summer semester.

Know Where Your Money Goes

Did you build any discretionary spending into your budget? Are there any other costs you can reduce? It is easier to reduce your expenses than to increase income.

Simple discretionary transactions, like buying coffee, may not seem like much, but they can add up quickly or become habitual. Cutting out or reducing these seemingly trivial transactions can turn into big savings. Think about the $5 cup of coffee. If you buy coffee every weekday, that is costing you $25 per week or $1300 per year! Changing up these transactions with simple things like packing your lunch, making coffee at home, or using a refillable water bottle can make the transition a little easier.

How are you paying for most of your expenses? Are you using your student loan refund or credit cards?  Doing so can compound the overall expense. Both your student loans and credit cards must eventually be paid back with interest. As you cut your discretionary expenses, you may find that you don’t need to borrow as much through your student loans.


Debt

For many students, borrowing student loans is a necessity to cover the cost of education. However, many students may not consider the total amount in loans they borrow each year. Perhaps the best way to determine if you are over-borrowing is to consider what you are funding with your student loans. Are these costs new because you are now a student or are these recurring costs you had prior to becoming a student?

New costs for students are typically things like tuition and text books. You can estimate your new costs at Wright State using our Cost Estimator. Recurring costs are usually things like room and board, gasoline, etc.

While it’s not always feasible for student’s to do this, one recommendation is to consider only using your student loans for your new costs and not for recurring costs. The logic here is that your recurring costs will continue after you graduate. After graduation, most people do not plan to pay for housing and food with loans. If you are able to only borrow for new costs, you may be able to significantly reduce your student debt.

Reducing what you borrow will have a direct effect on your loan repayment after graduation.

Helpful Hints

Do you know how much debt you already have? Start out by writing down all of your sources of debt. Include things like the name of the lender, the amount owed, interest rates, and loan terms (ex: repayment period). Now total up all of your debt. Seeing this total can lend a better perspective of where you stand financially and help to drive you toward healthy financial decisions.

Knowing what you owe, now consider what you are paying toward these debts each month. Are you paying the minimum payment required? Paying the minimum can drastically inflate the total cost of your debt as well as the length of time necessary to repay. If possible, pay more than the minimum amount required each month to cut down on both time and interest accrued on your debt.

Keep in mind, reducing or eliminating debt won’t happen overnight. It can take years to pay it all off, but having a strategy and making healthy financial decisions can go a long way.