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7 Steps to Creating a Budget that Works for You

Being responsible with your budget isn’t about not spending money, it’s about spending wisely.

Sonja Killebrew

August 18, 2015

7 Steps to Creating a Budget that Works for You
Budget is a dirty word for some. It can sound restrictive. I prefer the term spending plan. It sounds liberating. Being responsible with your finances isn’t about not spending money, it’s about spending wisely. Here’s how to create a “spending plan” for your first semester of college:

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1. Be realistic.

Rather than hope you’ll have x-amount of money to spend, look at your bank account, savings, cash gifts, or anticipated college loan refund to see how much money you’ll have to spend.

2. Estimate your expenses.

Will you pay rent? Utilities? A cell phone bill? Will you have a meal plan or will you buy groceries or will you eat out? Will you pay for public transportation or for a car? How much will you pay for tickets home or vacations?

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Knowing your expenses will help you create categories in your spending plan.
Here are examples of the “needs” in my monthly spending plan:
• Cell Phone: $135.00
• Transportation: $200.00
• Groceries: $400

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• Books: $175
• School Supplies: $50

3. Know your “needs” versus your “wants.”

For example, you may need a car if there’s no public transportation near you, but you may want a sports car. You may need to buy groceries, but you may want to dine out everyday.
First, list your needs in your budget, and then allocate money for them. If there’s money left over, then spend on your wants.
Here are examples of the “wants” in my monthly spending plan:
• Restaurants: $350
• Clothing: $100

4. Align your spending with your values.

In order for your spending plan to not feel restrictive like some budgets may, you can add categories of things you like to do. For example: entertainment (movies or magazines), self-care (massage or manicures), or spirituality (church tithe or donation to a cause).
Here are examples of the “wants” in my monthly spending plan:
• Entertainment: $100
• Self-care: $150
• Spirituality: $75

5. Savings.

Savings is a column in your spending plan as well. A rapper once said, “It’s not about what you cop; it’s about what you keep.” (Lauren Hill) Sage advice, if you ask me. Some experts suggest saving 10% of your monthly income; others suggest 30%. I would suggest finding an amount that you’re comfortable with and sticking to it. I began saving $100 a month, which can add up in the long run.
Here are examples of compound interest rate on your savings:
• Initial amount: $100
• Monthly deposit: $100
• Annual Interest (compounded): 5.9%
• Year 1 Balance: $1,339.05
• Year 10 Balance: $16,479.44

6. Be organized and kind to yourself.

We all stray from our spending plans. We have good intentions, then life happens. We need to get our wisdom teeth pulled or our appendix removed and suddenly that money we allocated for savings or clothing is gone. Or maybe we bought a brand new outfit and a designer watch because we just had to have them. We’ve all been there. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Succeeding at your spending plan is about progress, not perfection. Know you will stray, forgive yourself, write down your expenses, and keep your receipts and your bills in monthly folders. You may need them for taxes or to prove that you paid a bill in case you’re billed twice for something. Remember that companies make mistakes, too.

7. Cash is king…or queen.

I don’t know who said this, perhaps another rapper, but it’s true. Pay cash for everything. Check your spending plan for your monthly expense amounts. Then put cash in envelopes for your daily, weekly, or monthly expenses. Paying in cash allows you to see your money being spent as opposed to paying with debit or credit cards. Unless you’re disciplined and you’ll check your bank account balance every time you spend money, paying cash will help you to be aware of how much money you spend daily, weekly, and monthly.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on my 7 money tips for starting college. Please share below!

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