Education is quite possibly the single most important engine for social change there is. There’s no better vehicle for personal, economic and social mobility or for cultural empowerment. Education is a right that we all should cling to, yet many of us are quick to abandon it when we leave high school, lured to the world of work by the illusion of financial independence or (what seem like) big and steady pay checks. That’s not to say that those who choose to go into work from high school aren’t smart, far from it, but the statistics show pretty consistently that a college education is the gold standard when it comes to social and economic mobility. And in the US, social mobility is far less of a given than you’d think.
The trouble is that many students from working class backgrounds, even if they’re lucky enough to receive a scholarship or state grant assistance, find that the deck is stacked heavily against them. College education has always favored those from wealthy families and students from working class backgrounds, particularly students of color, find that there are undertones of elitism to campus life. Alongside this, students from a variety of backgrounds find that they struggle financially to the extent that it becomes detrimental to their studies.
Online learning has helped to level the playing field here somewhat. Students can now study anything from an engineering management masters to a PhD in biochemistry from the comfort in their home and with the flexibility to fit around work and family commitments. Whether you study at home or on campus, it’s essential that you make every penny count.
It all starts with a budget
Few students think to budget. Perhaps because they consider it the domain of families, but planning (and sticking to) your budget is the single most important way to manage your finances while studying. Students (and especially campus-based students) have a pretty good handle on the big things such as the cost of course materials, the rent, a new TV or a MacBook but what tends to take them by surprise is how quickly the little things add up. Parents soon start to realize that their kids are not being able to afford certain essentials after paying rent, which is why some parents choose to buy care packages for college students to send to their kids while they live in accommodation. Every little bit does help, especially when you’re a student. Students are fairly new to the notion of composite living costs and how quickly the little things like the time you needed to buy a new printer cartridge, the round of beers you charged to your credit card or the time you didn’t have the energy to cook so you ordered takeout. It’s these little costs that can quickly add up and wreak havoc with your personal finances if you don’t adhere to your budget.
Put the card away
One strategy that some find helpful is to withdraw a set sum of money every months for personal living expenses. This gives you a much better handle on your outgoings. Use this money for everything and leave the card at home. Seriously, don’t even take it out with you. Save it for emergencies only and you’ll find it much easier to stick to your budget.
Zero Based Budgeting
Zero based budgeting is a great way to keep your living expenses under budget. Like any other budget you keep track of your income and expenditure every month but whatever is left over after your monthly commitments like rent or bills as well as incidental expenses like food or drinks is automatically reduced to zero. This means that your surplus is kept in reserve for emergencies. This cash is kept to one side in a piggy bank or jar for emergencies.
This will not only prevent you from going bust financially but allow you to relish and enjoy your studies as a happy, healthy student and seek the empowerment you so richly deserve.