I was fortunate enough to not have to take out student loans for my undergraduate studies. Not having to worry about paying back said loans upon graduation is admittedly a relief, but I have future expenses to consider, such as graduate school. This means that I still commit myself to working two part-time jobs while on an 18-hour academic schedule, which, at the University of Illinois, is a full schedule load.
Although I do have a monthly allowance, I budget it out for apartment rent, utilities, and groceries. The remainder is what I like to keep in savings to accrue interest every month. The monies I make at my two positions are what I use to buy “wants,” such as eating out in the downtown areas or buying sweaters because I left most of them at home. As a result, I end up saving most of my income, no matter what source it comes from. I am prepared for unexpected, costly events; for example, if I needed to have a procedure done at the school’s health center, I would have enough to pay for out-of-pocket fees.
Essentially, the way to make the most out of no student loans is to remain financially vigilant, and the goal of being financially independent post-graduation is a fantastic point of motivation. I recommend other students to figure out where they want to be after graduation as soon as possible. If students are seriously considering graduate school, tuition can be as high as $60,000 per semester at some universities. Assistantships, scholarships, and grants are all options to decrease costs, but having money accrued and saved from the undergraduate years can be extremely beneficial. If students are aiming to work in particular industries after graduating, they should consider potential, related expenses, such as the purchase of a car or the rent of a new apartment.
As a junior in college, I am currently making the decision between graduate school applications and jumping straight into the job market. What I know for certain is that either path will likely lead to me being away from home, so I will need money set aside for apartment rent. I do have small purchases in the present that I need to make immediately (like I said, I left my sweaters at home). However, I constantly remind myself that purchases like that take away from funds that could go towards that future apartment. Some friends of mine keep a Post-It Note in their wallets to remind themselves of their post-graduation purchases whenever they head out to the downtown areas for drinks, but that is just one way to stay aligned within a budget. I tried the Post-It Note method and kept dropping it, so my solution was to highlight it red on my Excel budget sheet.
Excel offers multiple budgeting workbook presets that are super useful for students like me who are not completely comfortable formatting Excel worksheets on their own. Some presets are “plug and chug,” which means that all is needed is manual number input, resulting in an immediate change in the pie chart. In other presets, students can compare spending per month through bar chart comparisons. Ultimately, Excel is convenient for budgeting since it is typically available on college campuses for free and is pre-coded for students.
Having no student loans does not mean that budgeting can go out the window. In fact, I would recommend students to pick up a part-time job in order to practice their budgeting skills in both time and in finances. Part-time positions that are related to career goals are most ideal, and there tends to be multiple opportunities on college campuses since the area is acutely aware of the fact that industry employers are primarily recruiting those with experience beyond the classroom. Students may not find themselves working in the dining halls; in fact, the first internship offer that was extended to me during my college years was for a Chicago-based editing firm.
I believe that working during my undergraduate years has benefited my time management skills and my financial practices. Of course, there are additional, work-related benefits (e.g. developing leadership skills, honing multi-platform communication skills, etc.) that are useful too. However, making my own money that I earned from personal initiative is rewarding in itself. I am very much conscious of my spending habits because paying for my “wants” means dipping into self-accrued funds. I can afford some tangible rewards – my “wants” – from time to time, but, at the end of the day, I am constantly working towards becoming financially independent for my post-grad years.
Plenty of colleges students do include drinking habits in their “wants.” That can include coffee or alcoholic drinks, and in my case, I drink neither. This means that my budget is likely more flexible than the average college student’s budget. However, students who do have these included in their budgets should consider cheaper alternatives. Free coffee is often offered at campus events, and part-time jobs (such as mine) can offer free coffee in the staff kitchen. When it comes to alcoholic drinks, budgeting across a friend group can be beneficial. The whole group can determine the maximum expenditure for the night and then contribute as a group for drinks; for example, buying a pitcher can be cheaper than purchasing single drinks on tap. Occasionally, flights can be inexpensive compared to buying a whole pint too.
Ultimately, having no student loans does not mean that students are permitted to be irresponsible with their money. Budgeting is important and working at a part-time job can reinforce the growth of financial management skills. Pre-made, familiar resources are available to students, like Excel, to plan out their budgets. Additionally, there are ways to reduce cost of “wants” by pooling with friends or by being resourceful on campus. Long-term goals, such as apartment rent for graduate school as well as graduate school tuition, impact students in their undergraduate years, so financial responsibility is important to consider with or without student loans.