This week I’m looking at how college students actually spend their money. I’ve reviewed my own spending, but in the interest of increasing the sample size, I asked my friend Michelle* if she’d be willing to share her spending from the last week. Obviously, this feels a little intrusive to anyone, but I was happy she agreed. *I did change her name due to the personal details being shared here.
A little about Michelle: she is a 21-year-old college senior, on scholarship and she rarely uses cash. This made the look-back much easier as we could track it all through her bank statement. We both took some time to look through it and I added some categories so we could break it down even further.
Michelle receives a scholarship of $1,300 every month. Due to the high living cost at her university, about $1,000 of that goes to rent. This leaves about $300 for the rest of her living costs for the month. Michelle does occasionally receive some extra spending money from her parents, when they are able to.
Looking Back is Hard
As we began to look through all of her costs, Michelle began to feel a bit guilty. I asked her explain a little about why she was feeling this way. “I feel a little embarrassed on how much money I’ve spent.” I completely related to her – as I recently experienced, it’s not easy looking at your own expenses. Especially with a friend. But we both agreed, if we learn something from it, the long-term benefits are well worth it.
As with any college student, food is a big part of what we spend on. In this particular week, Michelle had gone grocery shopping. She spent a little over $65, which she said was a normal habit for her and will last her about two weeks. I don’t think you can really beat $65 for two weeks worth of food! She said she always looks for sales and deal in the grocery store. Pretty impressive!
Our conversation quickly shifted into saving money. I asked her about financial goals/plans. Michelle hopes to attend law school one day, but knows the cost is very steep. I assumed she was saving money, but when asked, she said she doesn’t actively save money. When I asked her why, she said, “Law school is much more expensive than what I could save in a month.”
Ouch. This is so true.
I then thought about my own savings journey over the last few months and realized Acorns might actually be a good tool for her to use as well. Acorns connects to your debit/credit card and rounds each charge up to a full dollar and saves that amount. I showed her the app and Michelle was astonished at how much I had personally saved in a fairly short period of time.
Forming Good Habits
We began to discuss the difficulties of good habits and avoiding the pitfalls that exist in college. As our conversation went on, I asked her what type of spender she thought she was. When posed with this question, she thought for a bit and then finally said (with some guilt, I noted), “I think I like to treat myself a lot.” I asked her to elaborate and she said, “I guess this never really crossed my mind, but looking at the amount spent on personal care and food was kind of a lot.”
Michelle is definitely not an extravagant spender. She is working with a very small budget on a monthly basis and does a lot to make it stretch. As with many of my peers, she spends a bit on herself every month, but even then, she’s doing a good job of making ends meet. Reviewing her spending seemed to bring out some guilt on her part, and I realized how hard we can be on ourselves. All of this is a learning process, and in all honesty, we’re in a weird money phase of our lives. This one week look-back gave Michelle some ideas on ways she could cut back even more, and she even came to the conclusion that she can in fact start saving each month!
Connor Sweet is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley and has deep aspirations to invest his money in the future. He is in the process of getting his finances in order and paying off his student debt in order to reach this goal. As he begins this journey he wants to offer his personal experience, advice, and findings in order to help college students/young adults in this very confusing time/pivotal point.
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