Disclaimer: this is my personal process and it may not work for everyone; you may be doing all of these things already, but it never hurts to be reminded.
In case you missed it, Grok previously published an article that featured student budgeting tips. While these tips were useful, they assumed that you’ve already got your rent, bills, and other general living costs covered.
But what if you haven’t?
Here are some tips for when you’re really struggling to make ends meet, and articles about disposable income and saving for holidays, are driving you nuts.
The first step is figuring out where your finances are at, so set aside some time to take stock of your situation and set some goals.
Figure out exactly how much you earn
Or if your work hours fluctuate, track your earnings over an average month and make an educated (and conservative) guess. Figure out how much money you have to play with monthly, fortnightly, and weekly.
Write down all your regular expenses
I’m talking: rent; utilities; insurance; car, or bike, rego; cellopark bill; fuel; public transport; groceries; uni books and resources; medical expenses; your Netflix bill; your Tuesday night dance class. Absolutely everything.
Don’t forget to include how much they cost and how often they need to be paid.
Yes, all of your expenses
This is where we talk about your “irregular” expenses, like that cheeky Nandos trip, and the $20 cocktail that you desperately needed.
The best way to identify these is to eliminate cash for a while and pay with your card. At the end of the month go through your bank statement and write down every purchase. Sort them into categories so you can see how much you’re spending in each area.
Pop these on a list with your regular expenses and put them into categories (like groceries, takeaway, subscriptions, entertainment, and bills).
Compare your monthly spending with your monthly earnings
This is the scary part. How big is the gap between the two? Do you have extra money or are you overspending? Be honest with yourself and try not to feel guilty. This is your starting point and your habits can only get better from here.
Decide which of your expenses are really necessary
Don’t freak out, I’m not asking you to ditch all of your brunch dates or cancel your Netflix subscription. But you do need to look at where your money is going and think about it critically. Which of these expenses are vital to keeping you alive, healthy, and able to study.
Rent? Yep, gotta keep that one. Regular Tuesday night pizza? Maybe not.
Set some spending goals and write down your ideal budget
Take into consideration everything you’ve worked out so far.
For example, my spending goals last month were “don’t impulse-buy things, cut takeaway by $25, take public transport to uni at least one day per week.”
Step two is testing out your budget and seeing if, in practice, it actually works for you.
Allow yourself a trial month (or three).
It’s okay to make mistakes or say fuck it to your spending goals. Lifelong spending habits are going to take a while to change. Just do your best and keep track of your spending. You got this.
During your trial period, set some time aside to think about your spending.
What are you spending on food?
It’s surprising how much you can save by investing a little more time in your grocery shopping and making conscious choices about the food you’re purchasing.
Try buying at a local fruit and veg market, or eating cheap protein. Canned chickpeas and lentils are 99 cents a tin, and can stretch a pasta sauce from a one-night deal to a week’s worth of dinners.
Go to the grocery store with a list. This way you’re less likely to impulse-buy five bags of Doritos, a kilo jar of Nutella, and three tubs of cookies and ice cream.
Lastly, eat healthier. Don’t just opt for cheap low-nutritional foods like mi goreng (although these are great with added egg and veg). Don’t cheap out on groceries just for the sake of saving money. Seriously. You’re studying, it’s important to look after your health.
How much money is going towards bills?
Can you change providers to make things cheaper? Can you reduce your usage?
Remember to turn off appliances after use, don’t run the dryer if you can put your clothes in the sun, and open a window instead of automatically reaching for the air conditioning remote.
How much do you drive?
If your car is a black-hole when it comes to money (like mine is), can you change the way you get around? Try car-pooling, taking public transport (I know, it takes so much longer, but you’ll be saving on fuel and Cellopark fees), or cycling. If not, can you reduce how much you need to travel? Plan one trip to the shops per week instead of three, and try to squeeze all your classes into a couple of days instead of spreading them out over the week.
How affordable is the place where you’re living?
I rent with a housemate, which brings my costs down a little. If you’re coming up to the end of your lease, have a look around for a cheaper option. Keep an eye on the trends in rental prices and discuss your rent with your landlord. If living rent-free with parents or other relatives is a viable option, go for it.
Can you replace anything in your budget with something free?
If Netflix costs you $15 a month, but old mate Steve has a killer DVD collection, ask if you can borrow a movie every once in a while. If your bestie Jane loves your weekly lunch dates but you really can’t afford to keep doing them, invite her over for dinner and make that bulked-out pasta sauce I mentioned instead.
So, you’ve followed all the steps—what now? If it’s working for you, great—keep doing what you’re doing. If not, you may need some expert advice. The Guild has a super approachable financial advisor who can help.
Finally, please, please, please be kind to yourself. Financial stress sucks. It’s a huge drain on your energy and happiness. If financial stress is impacting on your mental health or ability to study, get in touch with Student Wellbeing; and remember that you can always talk to someone at Lifeline or Beyondblue if you don’t know where to start.
This article was originally published on October 8 2018 as part of Grok Issue #2018. For more of our print content visit https://issuu.com/curtinguild