Good Sunday morning, everyone! How has your week been? We’ve had the sunniest weather ever here in Waterloo, and it was 30 degrees yesterday evening when I walked home from school. Yay for summer!
Today I am going to share a couple of budgeting tips with you. I wrote these tips back in April, for a lady called Ms. Cornell, a journalist writing for the Star, the National Post, and the Globe and Mail. She contacted me during finals season and I was more than happy to procrastinate and answer some of her questions. My budgeting mistakes and tips are possibly on Toronto Star’s Colleges and Universities supplement at the moment, but I wanted to post ’em on the blog nonetheless!
Did you struggle in budgeting?
I was lucky in that I didn’t struggle too much with budgeting. My parents are quite understanding, and in my family, we never had strict rules about exactly how much to spend. My parents always encourage “mindful” spending, which means I can buy whatever I need and will put to good use. I always think carefully before purchasing the essentials and usually reach for the discounted items or no-name brands. Also, I love the dollar store for things like scissors, boxes, and organizers!
Did you live in residence?
I didn’t live in residence. I knew at the start that I wanted a kitchen, and I wasn’t very fond of the idea that I would have to share a bathroom with an entire floor of boys and girls if I lived on residence. There are some residences on campus that do have kitchens, but my odds of scoring one of those were basically zero because I didn’t have anyone to sign up with! Instead, my mom helped me find a nice apartment just ten minutes from the school. Now that it’s beautiful outside, I can walk to school in less than 15 minutes!
Did you have a meal plan?
I don’t have a meal plan, but many of my friends do, and find it quite frustrating because they underestimated the number of meals they’d be enjoying off-campus. Campus food is ridiculously overpriced – $1.50 per banana? Nope! At the food court in the student hub, it costs around $18 for an average lunch: a drink, a fruit cup, and a chicken pita wrap. Definitely not worth it, in my opinion.
Did you find that adequate, or did you find yourself spending too much money on extras? What kind of extras?
Because I don’t have a meal plan and live off-campus, I do spend quite a bit on groceries and other essentials. I purchase groceries once a week, which usually costs me $40 to $80. Huge range, I know!
Laundry costs $7 a week for washing and drying, since I usually do two loads – one for clothes and one for towels. Every week or so, I also see my physics tutor who charges $20/hour. I treat myself to special lunches in local cafés once a week, which costs around $15 a meal. As for the extras, I occasionally splurge on tea lattes, notebooks and binders, or clothes/shoes if I truly need them.
What was the result (ie. had you run out of money by mid-year or month?)
Fortunately, I don’t have that problem! I tend to buy only things that I NEED and will definitely USE, rather than pretty things or things that I think will come in handy.
Do you have a weakness for chai lattes, or anything else that is a regular budget item for you?
I actually had an obsession with London Fog lattes, and I would purchase them once or twice a week from the local coffee shop. Then I discovered a milk frother for discount at Teavana, which I purchased instantly. Now, I make all kinds of homemade, healthier tea lattes in the morning for a fraction of the price!
Was it an adjustment to live on a set budget? How did it differ from the way you lived when in your parents’ home?
For me, the only difference in living alone was that there are no voices telling me to buy something – or not to buy something! With my parents, I would always have recommendations and thoughtful suggestions, so I’m learning to make rational decisions about purchases without them.
Can you tell me a story about your biggest budget issue and how you resolved it?
Before the harsh Waterloo winter hit, I spent $250 on a super warm, long, fuzzy winter coat and another $200 on high-quality winter boots. On the same day, I purchased around $80s worth of groceries, and my debit card was rejected by grocery store! It was a little embarrassing, with the entire line watching me frantically punch in my PIN number multiple times before realizing that my debit card would only allow $500 to be spent each day. I asked to sprint to the bank, but of course, it had closed five minutes ago. Since I didn’t have any cash on me (silly mistake!), I had to sheepishly put away my yogurt, squash, and some other non-essentials so that I could swipe the last $50 on my debit card. Lesson learned: plan what you are going to buy before buying it, know how much it will cost, and make sure it doesn’t exceed your budget – literally.
What tips would you have for other students in terms of budgeting?
- Record finances on your phone. Every dollar you spend – make a note of it. I use the “Notes” app on my iPhone to keep track of how much I am spending, then make a monthly total. It really helps to see how much I’ve spent recently, where I can save a little more, and “when” I am doing the most spending (eg. weekends vs. weekdays).
- If you need it, buy it. If you don’t, don’t. If you aren’t sure, don’t buy it. If it’s still on your mind after a couple of days, buy it!
- I always go for cheap-o household materials like cloths, sponges, swiffer sheets, etc., because they get dirty, worn, and need to be thrown out anyways!
- Forgive yourself – being a student is tricky enough, and you are doing a great job balancing it all!
Tell me in the comments below:
- Do you have a budget? How do you keep track of how much you are spending?
- Have you ever had budget problems?
- What is your #1 tip for saving money?