So I feel as though a lot of posts on Tumblr are directed to students that live on campus in dormitories, but a lot of people seem to be struggling to know how to deal with living on their own. I am here to help!
Know your finances: Make a list of all your expenses for the semester. Ensure to include things you wouldn’t really think about, such as money for gas or bus fare. Bills, groceries, everything you can think of. If you know the exact amounts, write those down, and for things such as gas or groceries make generous estimates. Total everything together and make sure it is a workable amount for the semester. Remember to include due dates for bills so that you aren’t late, and so you will know exactly how much you will need by each due date.
Create a budget: Break down your expenses into week-by-week amounts. Make sure that you always have enough to meet your expenses, especially on date bills are due. If you’re working, make sure that you’re working enough hours to meet your expenses. If you’re working with a lump sum for personal expenses that your parents or school has given you, make sure you are able to make it stretch out over the period of time you need.
Automatic payments versus manual payments: Automatic payments are convenient and ensure that you won’t miss a bill by taking payments directly out of your account. However, if you don’t have the money to cover the bill, the automatic payment will come out anyway and cause you to pay an overdraft fee, or it will get rejected. It’s been my experience that manually paying my bills is better. I set a reminder in my phone for 5 days in advance so that I can keep an eye on my spending, then 3 days before for the same reason, and the day of so I can remember to pay.
Groceries: Plan your meals and make a grocery trip around that. If you have an off-campus student meal plan, then that usually takes care of 1-2 meals per day. However, if you’re totally on your own for food, then this mostly applies to you. The internet is full of recipes for budgets, easy meals, etc. Pinterest is a great resource. Try to find meals that utilize the same ingredients so that you will be able to buy something and stretch it out. For instance, if you buy a pack of chicken, you can make several meals with it! Leftovers are great too, so making a larger batch of something for dinner can pay off. Once you have a stock in your cabinets, you can build meals around what you already have, so you have to buy less. Stores I go to are Aldi, Trader Joes, and even dollar stores. If I have to go to Target or Walmart, I buy the store brand. Make sure you bring a list/your planned out meals with you and ONLY buy the things that are on the list. Also, don’t go to the store hungry! You’ll buy more.
Make sure you have enough toiletries, etc: Toilet paper, paper towels, handsoap…anything you don’t really think about needing to stock up on because it’s just always been provided.
Time management: Give yourself a lot of extra time to get to class. Account for traffic, parking, walking to class, etc. I have also found that going to campus even if I don’t immediately have class is helpful, and staying after class is too because its hard to get work done when I am home. I go to class and then go to the library or somewhere else to make sure I get work done, because then when I go home I really can just watch Netflix and relax. This is mostly because I have to drive a while to get to class, and when I’m there, I want to make sure I am getting the most out of the money I spend on gas to get there! Also, make sure you remember to bring everything you need with you when you leave. I have a list on my door of things I always need to have in my bag (laptop, notebooks, keys, phone charger, etc) so I don’t forget. Literally nothing is worse than going all the way to campus and realizing you forgot something.
If you drive, make sure you maintain your car: Tires, oil changes, etc. It might seem like an unnecessary expense, but maintaining your car is really important to making sure that it runs efficiently. If your car breaks down, then you’ll either have to find an alternative way to campus or you won’t be able to attend class at all, and have to spend more money to fix it.
Bring food to school: I always have food in my bag. Sometimes I even bring sandwiches or Tupperware with food in it with me. It is so much better for your bank account to bring food to school instead of spending a ridiculous amount of money on food at campus cafes or stores. Especially if you’re on campus for a long time. Seriously, why does food on campus cost so much? Along those same lines, I always bring my own coffee with me. I love sitting in campus cafes drinking coffee, don’t get me wrong, but seriously WHY IS EVERYTHING ON CAMPUS SO EXPENSIVE?
But allow yourself to buy stuff if you want: Sometimes I wake up late and don’t have time to pack food or I am just sick of bringing food to school with me. In those cases, I allow myself to buy food or coffee or whatever on campus. I usually put a set amount of money on my student card (which doubles as a debit card at UMass) and that’s how much I allow myself for the semester to spend on drinks, food, etc.
Keep your professors in the loop: If you commute and you miss the bus or you run into traffic or any other number of things happens, make sure you tell your professors as soon as you can. I always send emails. This way they know that you understand their class is important and that you aren’t just too lazy to walk from your dorm.
Work: If you need a job, I would advise getting one on campus as a top priority. In my time as a student, I have worked both on and off campus, and the jobs on campus are always much more understanding and forgiving because they know how it goes with students. Off campus jobs, such as retail, can be understanding but I have found they are much less chill about things like having a different schedule during finals week, huge projects, etc. Along that same train of thought, apply for campus jobs BEFORE the semester starts. Also, don’t be fooled. You may think there are only work-study jobs on campus but that’s not true. Look around and you’ll probably find something! And make sure that you don’t overburden yourself with hours at work. The prospect of working a lot to make a lot of money might seem exciting or necessary, but remember that you need time to study, do homework, sleep, eat, and definitely free time to keep yourself sane!
Work-study: If you have been awarded federal work-study, make sure you know exactly how much you’re getting, because that’s all you can make for that year/semester. Additionally, make sure you apply for work-study positions early because they are very coveted positions on campus. Try to find something related to your major/what you want to do, or something that would look good on a resume. Also! You can only have ONE work-study job, but you can have another NON work-study job on top of that.
Utilize dollar-stores, thrift stores, etc: Need a new spatula? Dollar store has some. Need some pans? Check thrift stores first. Kitchen towels? Dollar store. Toilet paper? Dollar store. Cleaning supplies? Dollar store. Speaking of, here is a site with a list of things you may or may not need for your first apartment (some of which you can get at dollar or thrift stores!).
Student discounts: Here’s a link to a post with a list of places that have student discounts.
Credit cards: This is a tough area. I have a credit card, and it’s been both a blessing and a curse. My advice would be to get one, but ONLY USE IT IF YOU REALLY REALLY NEED TO. Like, if you really need to buy food but don’t get paid for another three days. I have a Capital One credit card with a credit limit of $500, and it’s helped. However, NEVER be late with a payment and ALWAYS pay off as much as you can, as soon as you can. True, this may not help your credit score much but it is better, at this point, to worry about maintaining finances than it is to worry about a credit score. Worry about that when you have a real job.
Don’t bankrupt yourself having fun: Buying $50 worth of alcohol might seem like a good idea but it won’t be as great the next time you need to eat and all you have is a half-finished bottle of Jack Daniels. There’s plenty of free things on campus to do and also drinking at home is a lot cheaper than going to bars. Explain to your friends that you have a budget and stick to it.
Keep your place clean: It’s so depressing to live in a dirty apartment. Take an hour every week to vacuum, sweep, etc. Do the dishes right after you use them, or at least once a day. Throw garbage away when you create it. Don’t let beer/soda cans pile up on your desk. Basic cleanliness and organization will keep you happier and more motivated.
Take time for yourself: It is easy, at the beginning of the semester, to schedule more than you can handle because it doesn’t seem so bad at the time, and you can imagine that you don’t need free time, however, you will drive yourself insane, I promise you. EVERYONE needs time to just be a couch potato or to sleep in or to just read a book or something. You absolutely must take time to just hang out and relax. You have to take care of yourself and ensure that you are happy (or at least don’t want to jump off a bridge) because literally everything in your life will be better if you aren’t totally miserable.
Say fuck it sometimes: We all have these moments where we stand on the edge of being responsible or making a frivolous choice. “Should I be responsible and save this 15 for groceries at the store or should I just order this pizza/buy this beer/get this shirt?” Just order the pizza sometimes. Not all the time. Not even often. Not frequently. Maybe once or twice a semester. Just do it. Pizza’s great.
Text-books: USED USED USED USED. Amazon! Other sites I don’t know off the top of my head! Buy used! Used is less expensive by a lot! Rent text books! PDFs! DO NOT BUY TEXTBOOKS NEW UNLESS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY PLEASE THEY ARE SO EXPENSIVE.
Keep track of everything: Bills, appointments, everything. Get a dry-erase board, get an agenda, whatever you need. Make sure you are at all times aware of what’s going on, when rent is due, etc.
Enroll in online banking: This is so much easier than having to go to an ATM every time you need to transfer money or check your balance. Most banks have apps for your phone.
Check the weather every day: You should be prepared because you aren’t a fifteen minute walk away from your dorm. Buy one of those umbrellas that fits into your bag so if it rains you won’t get soaked. Bring layers and carry them if it’s going to get cold later in the day. Preparedness is key when you don’t have your entire life with you on campus. Bring gloves and shove them in your bag. Whatever you need to do.