Time Budgets

Sometimes it feels like there just aren’t enough hours in a day to get everything done.  Other times, it’s like there is absolutely nothing to do for hours on end. And in Netflix time, you’re 23 episodes in to Supernatural and decide you have just enough time for another season or two before bed.

No matter how you spend your time, though, just remember: you have 168 hours to use each week.

That’s right: 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, equals 168 hours in every week.

I know that seems like a lot and not enough at the same time, so just take your planning one step at a time now.

1) What commitments do you have?

This is where you factor in the things you absolutely must do on a set schedule: classes, labs, work, and other things you simply MUST be in attendance at. Write these things down in your day planner (don’t know how to use one? We’ll get to that another day). Add up how many hours you have in your week that you just cannot use for anything else, because they’re already scheduled.

2) Check your “time sucks”.

Yes, “time sucks”. These are the things you might forget about, even though they’re unavoidable. This could be anything from commuting to and from campus, getting to and from different parts of campus, or those awkward bits of time between classes (seriously, who thought a 15 minute break between classes would be productive?). Make sure you figure out roughly how much time these will take up.

3) Now throw in your basics.

Everyone needs to sleep. Some people only need 5 hours a night, while others need a good 9 hours to feel productive. Figure out how much sleep you need, and factor that into your schedule! Don’t forget the time it takes you to prepare and eat your meals. And (many people forget to factor this in) most of us don’t just roll out of bed looking (and feeling) fabulous. Make sure you factor in whatever time you need to get ready to start your day. (Personally, I need at least 1 1/2 hours to wake up, shower, have my coffee, check email, and get myself looking presentable)

4) Now you can plan everything else.

Take a look at the hours you’re not using yet. THESE are the hours for you to do everything else you want to do. This is when you study, socialize, volunteer, party, and marathon Netflix.

5) Be realistic.

Don’t schedule every spare moment for studying. You’ll burn out pretty damn fast. Don’t plan every day to keep you on campus from 8am until 10pm. Don’t plan nothing but work and studying, with no fun. No matter how dedicated you are, you need to take a break from time to time. Frequent breaks ensure that you won’t burn out too fast. If you see that you have a rough couple of weeks, make sure to plan a night out (or a night in to relax). If you see that you have an easy few weeks, try to throw in a little extra study time to work on things you’ll have less time for later.

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Budgeting Part 2: Student Loan Edition

When you have a steady income (or any income at all), it’s a little easier to make a budget. Basically, you make sure that “money going out” is never more than “money coming in”, and that all your bills are paid. But what about when you get paid only once?

For many students, the lump-sum student loan is their only real source of income for an entire semester. Somehow, these students need to make sure that this money last them for months at a time, while still paying for essentials like rent and food. While it’s difficult to do, it’s entirely possible (just damn near impossible) to do this.

1) Pay off ALL the school things

That money is for your education. Before you drop a dime on anything else, make sure your education is paid up. That means paying your tuition, buying (or renting) your textbooks, paying for any incidental fees (meal plan, residence fees for on-campus living, health plans, etc)…… ANYTHING that would impact your ability to go to classes and then stay in school until your degree/diploma is done. Some schools won’t let you register for the next semester until all your fees are paid up.

And, before you ask, yes you will need textbooks. You can’t (for the most part) just copy down notes from class and learn from there. Depending on your school, you could have a lot of options. Some schools have a used bookstore, or let you rent books. Others keep a copy of every textbook in the library.  Make sure you know all of your options and make a real, possible to follow, plan of action for your semester (ie., don’t just think you can photocopy other people’s books).

2) Now for monthly expenses

Make sure you have money for all those bills you need to pay off every month. Add up your monthly bills, then multiply that number by the number of months your loan has to last you. THAT number is how much you need to set aside, at the very least, to get you paid off each and every month.

3) Divide up what’s left 

Any and all money you have left after taking out the monthly expenses….. THAT is what you have to work with for the rest of the semester.  This is your groceries, your coffees, your shopping, your emergency money, your going out money. So how do you manage this?

With math!

Take the money, and just divide it. You could divide it by the number of months it has to last, or the number of weeks. Hell, divide it by the number of days you need it to last, if you really want to go that far. No matter how you work it, just divide it up and stick with that number. So you get $350 a month? Then that’s it, that’s all you get for each entire month.

Now, divide that number up however you want. Do you want just a set number you can spend each week? Then divide by the number of weeks in the month, and there you go! Another great idea is to divide your money up by what you need it for. Figure out what you’ll need/want to spend money on (food, clothing, going out, emergency fund, etc). Then, figure out how much you need for each of these things. You can always reassess your needs each month and adjust things if you need to (say, you realize you need more than $15 a week for groceries, or you can’t spend $0 on entertainment and not feel like you’re going crazy).

4) DON’T GO OVER BUDGET!!!!

Every time you go over budget this month, that’s less money you have every month for the rest of the term! If you have no other source of income, then you have to steal from your future self to pay off your present self. Want to overspend on this month’s clothing budget? Then it comes out of your clothing budget for next month. Same goes for groceries, entertainment, and every other little thing you spend money on.

Remember, it’s always better to under spend than over spend. If you have extra money left over at the end of the month, you don’t have to run out and spend it right away. Add it to next month’s budget. Stick it in your piggy bank (you’re never too old for a piggy bank). Save it for the end of the semester, to use to blow off some steam after exams. It’s always better to have that little extra left to save for later, than to be scrambling to get by on $75 for your whole last month because you kept over spending.

Basics of the Budget

The first few weeks of school are pretty damn exciting. There’s welcoming events, moving, meeting new people, new classes, and, for a growing number of students these days, a giant student loan deposit in the bank. For many students, that lump sum payment is more money than they’ve ever had at one time.

Having that much money all at once can be a little overwhelming for some. Seeing that there are possibly thousands of dollars in your account can feel like you will never run out of money this semester. Once tuition is paid for the term, everything that’s left seems like fun money. Suddenly you can eat out, hit the bars, shop, and do all the things real grown ups like to do.

Except, you can’t.

You see, once that money is gone, IT’S GONE. Unless you have another source of income, you have to make that money last you. Hell, even if you DO have another source of income, you can’t run around blowing money on every little whim. You have to make (and stick to) a budget.

I know, that’s such an evil little word. “Budget” means “I have money, and I want to spend money, but I’m not allowed to spend money, so life just freakin sucks”. It also means, though, “I can afford to keep my bills paid off every month, have a bit of money to play with, don’t have to live in fear of eviction or not having money to spend on food, AND I get to practice this whole ‘being a grown up’ thing a little more”.

Before we get into how to make one loan payment stretch a whole semester, let’s go over the very basics of what a budget is, and how you can make one of your own.

1) Figure out how much it costs you to live every month.

Do you have to pay rent the first of the month? What about utilities (heat, electricity, water)? Internet? Phone? Look at every single thing you have to pay for every month. This isn’t just your living expenses, either. If you have a car, then you need to include any bills for that. If you have a balance on your credit cards, then payments need to be included too. Basically, any bill you have that needs to be paid off every month needs to be included.

The easiest way to do this is to just make a list. On one side of the page, list out all these expenses. On the other side, put how much they cost. Do you have something, like a cell phone or internet bill, that is a little different each month? Err on the side of caution, and write down what a more expensive month would cost you. Now, add everything up and…. voila! You have your basic bills!

2) How much money do you actually have?

Take into consideration every single way you get your money, whether it’s student loans, a part-time job, or an allowance from your parents. If it’s money coming in, then keep track of it! Again, just make a list of everything and add it all up. Do you have enough to even cover the costs of your basic bills?  If not, go right to step #6. If you do, then just read on.

3) What’s left for everything else?

I know, you want to take everything that’s left and go have some fun with it. And you can…….. possibly, in moderation. First, you need to figure out what you’ll need to spend on food every month.  Don’t kid yourself and say, “I can live on $5 a day” or “I can eat nothing but ramen all term”. Go to a real grocery store, look at the food. Figure out what you need, and budget for it.

Once you have food covered, then you can look at spending some on a little fun. Just don’t spend it all at once.  While it might feel great to go out one night and buy drinks for all your friends, that could cost you your whole month’s budget, leaving you stuck at home the rest of the month while everyone else is out having fun. Wouldn’t it feel better to just have a drink or two, and then save the rest for………. more nights out? Or a bit of shopping? Maybe you have a latte addiction you want to spend it on, or like to take cabs everywhere. You need to account for, and prepare for, all of this in your budget.

4) Where can you cut your costs?

Buying a coffee (or seven) every day can get pretty damn expensive. Same goes for taking cabs, eating out, using vending machines, and dozens of other things we tend to do every day. If you find yourself guzzling coffee, invest in a coffee pot and a few good (and large) travel mugs. If you cab it everywhere, grab a copy of the local public transit schedules to keep with you. All of these little things can start to add up and really eat away at your budget.  You need to find a way to cut back on these expenses, without totally depriving yourself (but that’s a topic for a whole other posting).

5) No matter your age, but a little something aside and try to be prepared.

You don’t have to open an RRSP and make big monthly contributions right now, but you should be saving something. Many students think that just because they’re not saving for retirement right now, they don’t have to save for anything. Well, that’s just damn wrong.

Do you want to buy Christmas gifts? What about big expenses, like clothes for a formal event or wedding? Will you be needing to get plane, train, or bus tickets once a semester? These are all things you need to plan for now. Saving part of the cost each and every month makes it easier to handle than letting it eat up a huge chunk of your budget one month.

Also, it is always a great idea to stash some money away for emergencies. Pretty much all the experts agree that you should have at least 6 months living expenses stashed away, in case your cash flow stops coming in for whatever reason. I know that seems like a lot, so just start small.  But a little aside at a time. Throw your change in a piggy bank. Have a portion of your pay check put directly into your savings. You can build up this emergency fund bit by bit now so that, when you need it most, it’s there for you.

6) Don’t have enough money to pull all this off? 

Well unless you find a way to cover all your costs, you are pretty much screwed.  There is no way to sugar coat this: you need to get off your ass, stop reading this blog, and go find more money NOW. Apply for scholarships, bursaries, grants, anything you may qualify for.  Start applying for jobs. Get (more) financial aid. Ask family members for help. Believe me, the LAST thing you want to do is start making up the difference with credit cards! At first, you think “Well it’s just a few hundred dollars, and I can’t just NOT buy groceries, so I’ll pay it off when I get more money”. The next thing you know, you’re getting ready to graduate, and have thousands in credit card debt ON TOP OF your school debt.

It’s not going to be easy, but there are ways you can get more money each month. Talk to a financial counsellor (if your school provides them), or someone you know who is great with money. There are also a lot of great resources out there (Gail Vaz Oxlaid, The Wealthy Barber, bank websites) that can give you more ideas and help than I ever could.

So that’s it: your basic budgetting. Now that you have it on paper, try to stick with it. I admit, it won’t always be easy, but it will definitely be worth it.