If you’re working and going to college at the same time, it can feel like you’re trying to balance two full time jobs. Theoretically, you have more money than the 18 year old fresh out of high school, but you also have more responsibilities.
You’re not alone. More than 14 million college students work while in school according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Of those, about 25 percent are working full time while carrying a full college course load.
Finding ways to manage your money as a working student can help you reduce stress and feel more financially secure while you’re in school. As a bonus, these strategies will also set you up for continued success after you’ve earned your degree.
Make (and follow) a budget
For some people, the very idea of creating a budget is enough to trigger anxiety. The fear is that if you look too hard at your finances, you’ll realize you have less money than you thought. However, avoiding this step can lead to nasty surprises down the road.
Setting and following a budget will help you live within your means while you work on furthering your education.
To make a budget, figure out how much money you (and any other working members of your household) bring in each month. Then subtract your fixed expenses. These are expenses that don’t change much month to month, like your rent or your tuition payment.
From there, you’ll know how much money you have left for variable expenses - those that change month to month like groceries or gas for your car. These fixed and variable expenses are the essentials - the cost of living. Set goals for the amount of money you’ll spend on variable expenses each month.
Once you know how much you need to survive you can look at adding money to savings or spending money on non-essentials, like eating out - these are called discretionary purchases. Assign a specific amount for discretionary spending.
If your expenses are higher than your income, look at ways to reduce your spending - can you carpool to work? Start bringing lunch instead of buying it? Renegotiate payment schedules on some of your debts?
Some people find that using cash for discretionary purchases keeps them on track. When you run out of cash, you’re out of discretionary funds, and you can’t buy anything else non-essential until the end of the month.
Whatever you do, stick to your budget. A budget is only effective if you follow the plan.
Set up payment plans and automatic payment
You want to control your finances, and maybe you like the freedom of being able to move money around last minute. But when you have a busy day at work and then have to go home and study for an exam, you don’t have extra brain power to spend worrying about whether you remembered to pay the power bill.
Set up payment plans and automatic payments to ensure that your bills are paid on time. You won’t have to think about paying bills, which will reduce your stress. Also, you’ll avoid costly late fees.
Make sure your payments come out the day after your paycheck hits your bank account. That way you know you’ll have money to pay the bills and the funds won’t be in your account long enough for you to miss them.
Find discounts and ways to cut costs
Balancing work, school and family means you’ll probably have a lot less leisure time. So leisure activities should be the first thing you look at cutting. Do you really need cable if you no longer have two hours a night to spend in front of the television? Can you eat at home instead of buying meals out?
Your college may also have partnerships with different organizations to provide discounts to their students. At Penn Foster, automotive industry students get discounts on Snap-on Tools. Penn Foster students also get special rates at discounthotels.com, Dell Computers, the Apple Store and more.
Use credit cards carefully
Using your credit card might seem like a harmless way to cover expenses while going to school, but be careful. Remember that when you carry a balance on your credit card you’re essentially spending more for each purchase.
When using your credit card can’t be avoided (for example your car dies and you need to get it fixed) pay as much as you can afford each month. Paying only the minimum means you’ll be paying that emergency off for a lot longer.
Another way to reduce monthly payments is to transfer your debt to a lower interest card. Make sure you understand the rules for this. Many cards charge some sort of transfer fee. Typically around 3 percent.
If you have several cards and transferring debt is not an option, make sure you’re paying the most on the highest interest card. The sooner you pay it off, the less interest you will have to pay.
Get everyone on-board
Nothing destroys a budget faster than people who aren’t on board with your money management plans. If you have children, a spouse or a significant other, make sure they’re on board with your money plan. Call a family meeting or sit down with your significant other and have a discussion about your spending.
When talking to kids about money, you don’t have to give them the nitty gritty on your debt to income ratio, but you can explain to them why a budget is a good idea and that the family will be using one to manage money.
Getting kids involved in the money conversation helps them build good money management habits. You can even help them make their own budget based on their allowance or part time job.
Realize that this is a short-term situation
Some working students get overwhelmed by the feeling of working so hard and not having as much money as they want. Keep your eye on the prize and remember what you’re working for. When you complete your studies you’ll be on the path to persuing more job opportunities and a better chance of asking for a promotion. That means more money in your pocket.
To avoid overwhelm, try to leave some room for fun in your budget. The occasional small splurge, like a meal out with your family or the purchase of new shirt can keep you from feeling deprived. Just remember to be reasonable with your splurges.
Buying a brand new video game console and games to go with it probably isn’t a budget friendly way to celebrate the end of your course, but renting a movie from a streaming service and buying some special snacks for your movie night probably is.
Get creative and remember to celebrate your hard work.
Choose the right school
Of course, many of these financial worries solve themselves if you don’t have to worry about gargantuan student loan debt. Choose a school that offers the education you need at a price that you can afford. Penn Foster is dedicated to providing affordable education through a pay-as-you-go model and zero percent interest.