Living on a Budget

Christie McCowen

Being on your own is difficult, especially when it comes to living on a college student’s budget. It is not easy — but it can be done. The first step is to know the difference between want and need.
If you did not already know, there is a difference between want and need.
Technically speaking, to want something is to desire it, whereas to need something is to require it. Do you really need new shoes, or do you just want them? Is it necessary to buy an expensive latte every morning, or could you get your caffeine fix in a cheaper way?
The second step is to figure out how much the things you buy, whether you need them or not, are costing you. It is not just about the dollar value.
If you have not discovered this yet, the most valuable thing at Lawrence is your time. Among required reading, research papers, and keeping up with your friends — and those other required activities, like going to class, eating and sleeping — your time gets stretched.
Though the federal government deems the minimum value for your time to be $6.55 an hour, you will come to find it priceless, especially when a little time means the difference between getting a full night’s sleep and pulling an all-nighter.
Speaking of minimum wage, take a look at that price tag again — and this time, divide the total by $6.55. That $19.99 DVD you bought actually cost you three hours of your time. Your morning coffee at the café down the street runs you half an hour. If you read at an average rate — approximately 200-250 words per minute, according to mindbluff.com — what that DVD really cost you was a paperback novel.
Before every purchase, ask yourself what it really costs. When you know the true value of your money, and your time, you will be able to determine if you can really afford what you want, after your needs are met.
Here are a few more budgeting tips — invest a dime of your time to read them.
Buy used textbooks.
When you cannot borrow your books from friends, buying used books is the next best thing. Though the Lawrence-provided bookstore may be convenient, there are better prices on the market. Put in the extra effort to find out what books you will need for the upcoming term, and buy them early. The earlier you buy, the cheaper the shipping method you will need. Check out great used book shopping Web sites that compare prices from a large number of stores. Searching on http://www.addall.com is a great place to start.
Split the bill, tip included.
You could do the math in your head, or you could use technology. These days, every cell phone is equipped with a handy tip calculator. If you have not put it to use already, try it out. Not only does it calculate tips at varying percentages, it splits the grand total by the number of guests as well.
Use your meal plan.
There may be no such thing as a free meal, but there are meals that you have already paid for. Things at the campus center may not always appear appetizing, but eating is one of those requirements to life I mentioned earlier. The cheapest way to eat is to utilize the meals you already paid for. There are plenty of options at the campus center, if you get a little creative. Not hungry now? Make a stop for a grab-and-go meal. For just one swipe, you can fill a container with plenty of provisions for later.
Keep an eye out for deals.
There are some expenses that you cannot avoid — whenever possible, keep an eye out for deals. Check newspapers, as well as store and company Web sites for coupons and other great deals.
Create a budget.
Tuition is just one of many expenses you are going to have this year. Do yourself a favor and budget for all of your expenses. Knowing exactly how much you have to spend will help set some limits and steady the line between want and need. Plus, budgeting can give you the incentive to save. An allowance of $10 per week for non-university food can mean five cups of coffee, or it can be saved up for a Friday night dinner with friends.
Anyone wanting a reimbursement for those extra paragraphs can request it by writing to: The Lawrentian, SPC 51.

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