Over a semester into college and I still fit the broke college student stereotype to a tee. The cherry on top would be if I was sipping on some ramen as I write this but don’t worry, I made some microwave mac n’ cheese for breakfast this morning so I’ve satisfied the requirements for today. Bad food decisions aside, I have been trying to get a grip on my finances since summer and I wouldn’t say I’m in a bad position but it definitely has not been easy.
Starting over the summer, I created a finance tracking spreadsheet for myself to update what I’m spending my money on and keep track of how much I spend per month. I thought that the awareness would help me save money in the long run. What I really came to realize is that I wasn’t spending a ton of money to begin with, especially since most food I buy is through my college meal plan (which my parents are helping with), and so my money was getting wiped out monthly more so by unexpected costs.
At the beginning of the school year, I thought that school costs were what was draining my account and so I made the excuse that it was the beginning of the semester and costs would go down once school settled down. Maybe those expenses went down, but somehow something new kept coming back to drain my accounts every month. So what I thought were one-off expenses? Well, there was always some one-off expense coming up.
For example, a professor waited to tell us about an online program that was recommended for the class (but wasn’t free). Or perhaps my friends were collecting donations for an association they are a part of, which I would like to help them out with. Or maybe it’s that you don’t think to prepare for the fact that you might get sick and need to pay for the doctor’s visit or medicine. Or a haircut — not on the forefront of your mind until it’s beyond necessary.
And then the next thing I knew, it was getting to the holidays and I was spending a good amount of money on gifts. My accounts looked like the aftermath of a natural disaster post-gifts, yet I still had gas to pay for for visits to see friends while I was home (so not a surprise: any money I had gathered was gone).
In the following months, I didn’t really spend much but I was still recovering financially. Now a couple of months in, I’m finally getting a grip again on my money and the money cushion is building a bit, though it is taking true dedication and awareness. I’m driven by a want to rise out of this pit of financial struggle. I don’t buy a lot, therefore I don’t need a lot of money, but I like having a little cushion in the case of unexpected costs. I discipline myself to not buy things I don’t need most of the time and actively check my accounts whenever I spend so there’s no major surprises.
A few months back I set up an automatic withdrawal system for $5-10 per week so that it starts accumulating my savings more and I now have a good amount going towards that which may also be why I feel like I’m struggling. It’s hard to keep track of subscriptions and automatic withdrawal systems but that’s why a cushion is always helpful.
Overall, this piece may seem all over the place in some ways, but that’s purposeful. I won’t act all calm and collected over something when I’m truly all over the place. The thing is, it’s okay that I don’t have a grip yet. I know enough to get by and I’m learning as I go about what works, what doesn’t, what I need to improve on, etc. At least I’m beginning my learning process early while I still have some access to help from my parents even though I would rather not rely on them. And I’m learning that every month, something is bound to come up that I haven’t necessarily planned for — specifics of the curve balls aren’t always consistent, but the fact that they came up is. And I’m realizing that.
The average adult goes into the world attempting to juggle their own finances for the first time while they adjust to complete independence in life, and I’m beyond grateful that I have the opportunity to test out and make mistakes in advance with a safety net to catch me if I fall, I mean fail. I’d rather fail now rather than later on, partially because the thought of falling instead just made my bank account cry at the idea of the medical bill, speaking of unexpected costs.