New Year, New You!

Ring in the New Year by making a resolution to review your finances and get your wallet back in shape. While many people tend to focus on things like diet and exercise, using the semester break to reflect on your spending habits and set a new course will yield measurable results in no time. Here are few suggestions for a worry-free spring semester:

Set a Budget

Having a complete picture of the amount of money coming in and where it is going is the most important step in gaining control over your finances. So if you found yourself running short on cash last semester, it’s time to set a realistic budget for yourself. Start by making a list of all your monthly bills and must-have expenses, such as cash and essential food costs. Enter these expenses into a spreadsheet or a budget worksheet, focusing first on the bills you absolutely must pay each month; you can add in extra expenses such as eating out later if you have any funds left over.

Next, identify all your sources of income for the semester, such as financial aid refunds, any remaining funds from summer earnings, expected help from your parents and income from your job, if you are working or are planning to work. Think carefully about how you can spread those funds out over the course of the semester to make sure you have enough to meet your expenses. If things aren’t in balance, you’ll need to cut back on some of your “wants,” such as entertainment or subscriptions to online music.

Just a reminder—any financial aid refunds you receive are intended to assist you with school-related expenses such as books and transportation. Be sure to spend these funds wisely and save enough to cover unexpected expenses later in the semester.

Keep Better Track of Your Expenses

If you have a checking account serviced by Higher One or access to other online banking services, it’s easy to see how you are spending your money and where, so be sure to check often. Use your online statements to review your spending from last semester. If you notice a lot of cash withdrawals and can’t remember where the money went, you may want to adjust the way you use your debit card going forward. The majority of merchants now accept debit cards to pay for purchases, so you can avoid carrying around too much cash. Another major budget buster is eating out instead of taking full advantage of meal plans or cooking at home. If you have roommates, consider sharing at-home meals a couple of times a week to save money.

Understand your Spending Triggers

When it comes to money, despite our best intentions, we all have points of weakness. That’s why it is important to understand your own “money personality” and identify the triggers that make you spend more than you should. For college students, that often includes pressure from peers to go out and have fun even when you know you’re short on funds. Instead, try looking for free things to do on campus or in your local community such as parks, museums or events. Try not to use shopping as a stress releaser, and set spending limits or guidelines, such as waiting at least 24 hours before purchasing anything over $50. It is amazing how your perspective on the importance of buying that item can change by just waiting a day or two. Remember to keep a mental vision of your ultimate goal—finishing your degree on time with as little student loan debt as possible.

Review your Outstanding Student Loans

Do you know how much you will owe when you graduate? Most students don’t, so take a few minutes to review where you stand and how many additional loans you will mostly likely have to take out to complete your degree. You can view your outstanding federal student loan obligations by visiting NSLDS. If you have taken out private loans, refer to your promissory notes or contact your lenders to get your outstanding balances.  You can estimate what your monthly payments are likely to be by using this calculator.

Explore Career Opportunities and Expected Starting Salaries

If you haven’t already done so, begin to explore the possible career opportunities associated with the degree you expect to obtain. Explore your interests and research expected employment openings and average starting salaries for those fields by visiting sites like and, which provide fast and easy access to the latest information. Knowing what you can reasonably expect as a starting salary will help you gauge whether you’ll be able to manage your student loans and other living expenses when you graduate. New Year, New You!

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  • Jeaneane Robinson

    Very helpful and useful information.