First thing’s first – I’m definitely not a financial expert. I’ve only ever taken one business class (and I’ll admit I didn’t do the best at paying attention in it), finance makes no sense to me, and I don’t know the first thing about how to keep a checkbook. But I have had my fair share of problems saving money once I got to college – especially freshman year.
A lot of freshmen have trouble managing their money. Part of it may be that their parents aren’t watching their every purchase, and distance makes it feel a little more acceptable to blow some cash on clothes that you don’t really need. Part of it may be that back home, occasionally parents will help out their kids with a couple bucks when they say that they’re going to get a bite to eat with their friends. There may also be less time for students to maintain a part-time job the way they could back home.
Keeping up with your finances might be a really new thing for freshmen – and that’s okay. While it would have been great if at 17 you knew exactly how to keep a checkbook and do your taxes and you already had a 401(k) going since your first part-time job, no one is expecting it from you. But you may be realizing that it’s time you got your finances and spending habits in shape. Some of these things have helped me, but talk with your parents and your peers and figure out what’s worked for them, too.
Write down every single purchase you make.
Whether it’s $100 on new clothes for your internship or $4 for a bagel at MegaBytes, write it down. Maybe keep a running list in a note on your phone, or keep it in a notebook specifically dedicated to your purchases. Review it every week. Seeing what you spend your money on will make you realize just how much is going towards certain habits, and visually understanding the quantity might make it easier for you to rethink your purchases for the rest of the week.
Take advantage of your meal plan.
First thing’s first, know what you’re getting for a swipe. At AU, an egg sandwich and coffee from Einstein’s is worth the same as a buffet-style meal at TDR.
Okay, so maybe you aren’t allowed to take Tupperware into TDR and carry back soup and rice and fish to your dorm room, but there are definitely ways you can take advantage of your swipe. Fruit works great as part of your breakfast or a snack, so a couple bananas or apples are a good thing to grab on your way out.
Have some go-to recipes that you can make in your dorm for cheap.
For me, it’s egg whites for breakfast. They’re super easy to make, especially if you microwave them in a mug. Know what you like and what you can always go back to. Trying to keep things for salad has never worked for me. There’s no way I can finish a bag of spinach before it goes bad. Keep the things you can’t do easily in your dorm for TDR.
Know what’s free to do in the city.
Believe it or not, but monumenting is not the only free activity you can do in D.C. It may seem like everything will cause a dent in your pocket, but if you keep your eye out for things, you’ll be surprised what you can find.
D.C. Public Library and tons of museums (which are both free to begin with), always have events going on that you can go to for free. Gypsy Sally’s on K Street has tons of free shows with local artists and open mics nights. Kramersbooks & Afterwords Café, Upshur Books, and Politics & Prose almost always have author readings going on. You’d be amazed at what you can find by searching “free in dc,” or by scrolling through local events on Facebook.
Get out of D.C.
It should be no surprise here that D.C. is expensive. Try getting out the city by going to places in Maryland or Virginia that are still Metro-accessible. There are plenty of restaurants and malls to explore beyond the borders of our city.