Dear Sue: “A Truly Broke Student”
Sometimes I feel like some of us aren’t really “broke college students.” And honestly, I feel like if you’ve got it, flaunt it. But I don’t “got it,” and consequently have nothing to “flaunt.” In other words, I’m broke and living off of my campus job income for spending money. But more than half of my friends have an allowance of some kind and never have to worry about money. I’m happy for them, really, but I’m struggling with how to fit in with them and their spending habits. It’s hard for me to go out to eat every night, and I can’t buy a new outfit every weekend. I was hoping you could give me some pointers on how to be thrifty without being the annoying friend who complains about money all of the time?
A Truly Broke Student
Dear Truly Broke,
It is indeed frustrating when you feel like all of your friends have more spending freedom than you do, even though you work. I’m glad you’re striving to not be the friend who constantly complains about money, because I think that’s a great way to alienate yourself from your friend group. But establishing some boundaries regarding what you can, and can’t do with your bank account sounds like a good idea.
Budgeting is your friend. Keep track of what you’re making and what you’re spending on a spreadsheet. If you’re doing things right, you should be making a little bit more than you’re spending. If you’re not, this should be your goal. Obviously, this is easier said than done when your friends are asking you to go out to eat with them or go shopping with them. I’m sure saying “no thanks” isn’t the answer you’re looking for, so learning to navigate a store in search of sales and price checks are some other things that will be key if you want to stick to your budget.
If you’re buying clothes, consider pieces you already have. You can re-wear basic items and just add to the outfit with jewelry or maybe a new shirt. Chances are, buying a pair of new shoes, or a new dress will cost you more. So when you have to buy clothing for going out, go with items that cost less. When you’re in a restaurant, do the same thing. Order a salad instead of a pasta dish, not only will it be healthier, but (generally) it will probably be cheaper. Order water instead of soda and skip appetizers. Or always offer that the group split. If you want that appetizer, ask your friends if they want to split. It is very simple for the waiter to split an item across tickets.
You don’t have to turn your friends down every time they want to go do something that involves money, just cut corners where you can. Splurge where you feel it counts, on things that may be special once in awhile like outings or meals, but cut corners on things that you probably don’t need such as a new phone case when yours is in perfect condition.
Also, just for the record, don’t be afraid to tell your friends “no.” You’ll have boatloads of other issues if you can’t nail that habit down now.
Sue Z. Maroon