Living at home has always been easier: the fridge is fully stocked and dinners out are covered by the ‘rents. After arriving at university, I suddenly found myself on my own with the financial situation, and quickly realized how difficult budgeting can truly be. Problematically, I thought living on my own meant I could buy whatever I wanted (which is enormously exciting when the drinking age in Montreal is 18). I figured the world was my oyster. After a week of eating out, going to bars, and grocery shopping, I realized that I had spent virtually everything, and found myself counting nickles and dimes to try and pay for one last cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. The struggle was real.
It started with the freedom. I was away from home with no curfew or bedtime. I felt like I could finally live my life like an adult, make decisions for myself, and buy whatever I needed. For the first week, this theory proved stable. I went out nearly every night and had a blast, dropping cash in the most ridiculous ways. I thought to myself, yes that Amaretto Sour is so worth $12; bring me another. Everyone else seemed to be living it up and I didn’t really have any concept of what it meant to live on a college budget.
Until I checked my bank account. Oh sh*t. It was unreal. I had spent above and beyond my budget for the month in less than two weeks. I started freaking out…Whaaat did I do? How do I fix this? I hyperventilated for a solid thirty minutes before making a game plan. I could recover from this. It would be simple, but require a LOT of dedication.
I started thinking smart and began buying store-brands instead of the name brands. (Target anyone?) I ate Kraft Dinner. I bought non-organic eggs (despite all of my morals). I didn’t go out at all for weeks! I watched Netflix and cooked dinner; it was wild. This worked pretty well for a while. I hit up Dollarama, refusing to spend the extra $1.50 on a latte at Starbucks and opting instead for Dunkin’ (far worse, but far cheaper). Yes, it was a struggle, but it was a necessary one. These were rough times…
As my spending became more regulated, I realized the value of keeping a budget and sticking to it. While there is no way to precisely predict what you’ll spend in a week, by taking out cold, hard cash on a Sunday and resisting the temptation to take your credit card everywhere, it’s easy to monitor what you buy and experience the momentary loss of watching it physically leave your hands. Now when I went to buy coffee, the extra change really mattered. I would downsize from a Grande to a Tall and keep the extra dollar in my personal “victory” savings fund for a later date. I also discovered some of the gold that Netflix has to offer and how sometimes watching a movie about clubbing is almost as good as going out. Almost.
Now I’m more careful when I think about money — I’ll ask myself whether it’s really worth it to buy that extra bottle of Smirnoff, when the same amount of money could fund an entire meal at my favorite restaurant. While I haven’t quite gotten it down to a science, (yes, I do splurge on the occasional night out), living on a budget can be done. The sacrifices you make to save money will be beyond beneficial in the long run, and college is the time to learn before you have to get a real job and live on your own. So ditch the $10 movie ticket, and catch up on OINTB instead. Maybe you can even take advantage of one of the school shows (cheap tickets!), or at least go on “Free Movie Tuesday.” Your wallet will thank you.