Long term ahead? Here’s how to stretch your budget

Cat stretching on a pillow
OCCU  -  01.19.2017

First day of term: Feeling like Mark Zuckerberg, swaggering around campus with dollars dripping from pockets.

Midterms: Eating hot dogs on sandwich bread and realizing the struggle really is real.

Finals: Literally can’t even.

That’s what living off financial aid can feel like. Making a paycheck last a month is hard enough for most adults, but three months? No wonder 50 percent of college students worry about having enough money to last the whole term.

But that doesn’t have to be you. With a little planning, you can sail through the term without any nail-biting moments at the checkout waiting for your debit card to be approved. Yeah, you’ll probably have to make a few hard choices—but don’t think of it as depriving yourself. Think of it as finessing your budget. Here’s how:

Keep it 100

When people struggle with their budget, it’s usually because they aren’t being real with themselves. So the first thing you’ll need to do is get down and dirty with your finances. List all your expenses. Leave nothing out. Facing your spending will only make you stronger.

Pay the big stuff first

Only you can decide the necessities from the luxuries. But big things like tuition and housing costs must get paid no matter what. Add them up for the term, and subtract the amount from your financial aid disbursement. It might help to keep this money separate from your day-to-day account.

Ration the fun

Once the necessities are covered, the rest of your budget is all about you. Decide how much you want to spend on food, shopping and Snapchat-worthy fun, and set a weekly spending limit. It’s okay to be chill about it—if you overspend one week, just be extra frugal the next. Make sure you leave enough in your account for pizza and coffee to get you through finals.

Check your daily spend

Usually it’s not the big expenses that break a budget. It’s the small day-to-day buys that add up quicker than you think—like when the iced caramel macchiato you treated yourself to on the first day of class becomes a daily habit. If the little things in life are eating away your budget, you might need to look for some cheaper habits.

Work your discount

It’s amazing how many deals you can score by flashing your student ID. Use it to save on everything from movie tickets to jeans to your cell phone plan. Find out which local restaurants and bars offer the best student discounts, and go there when you eat out.

Ask for help

Most college students have never had to stick to a budget before. You don’t have to do it alone. There are resources that can help you figure out the best way to manage your spending. At OCCU, we partner with BALANCE to give our members financial counseling services at no cost. Their experts can help you create a budget that works for you.

Once you learn to stretch your financial aid, you’ll never have to end another term wondering, “How did I spend so much money?” That’s one less thing to worry about.