Budget Busters


These nine temptations will drain your wallet a dollar at a time.

Even if you're careful and if you have a well-planned budget for living on campus, there are some pretty tempting budget busters that can drain your wallet a dollar at a time. Need an example? Let's say you have a habit of turning in library books and rented movies a few days late. It only costs you a few dollars every once in a while. But over time those small fees add up, taking a pretty big chunk out of your budget. Here are nine more budget busters:

1) Fast-food frenzies

 We all get a craving now and then for a burger and fries, or a slice of pizza. A fast-food break is fine now and then—especially if you're using the dollar menu. But if you've worn a path to the local fast-food place, you're taking big bites out of your budget. As much as you can, use the campus cafeteria. Those meals are already paid for—unlike those fast-food trips that'll definitely bust your budget.

2) Paying full price

Smart shoppers, wise money savers and strapped-for-cash college students should avoid paying full price for anything. Look for sales. Buy generic. Get a saver's card for groceries (check with your local grocery store). Read the flyers in the Sunday paper.

Check websites for discounted prices. Get tips from your parents on how to find the best deals. Use coupons. Also, local thrift shops have great prices. Saving some money on clothes may even free up cash for a little much-needed entertainment … at the local two-buck theater, of course.

3) "Deals" you don't need

Unfortunately, not all sales are a good thing. If a $60 backpack goes on sale for $15, that's a great deal. But if you have two backpacks sitting in your room, you aren't really saving $45. You're out $15 you didn't need to spend. Don't buy something you don't need just because it's at a great price. If you're tempted to make a purchase simply because it's a good deal, give yourself a few days to go home and think it over. Do you really need it?

4) Credit cards

They're handy! They're convenient! They're so very useful. They can also destroy a budget and put you in major debt—debt that could take months or even years to pay off. Be very careful about using credit cards. If you get one (and we stress one here), plan to use it for major emergencies only. And be sure to pay off your balance right away. Before you take the credit card plunge, however, check with Mom and Dad. They'll have a pretty good idea about whether or not you can handle the credit card temptation.

5) Debit cards

They're not all that bad—well, not as bad as credit cards. And they are pretty handy. Just remember, when you take out cash, immediately subtract it from your checking account balance. If you don't, there is a very good chance you'll end up with overdraft charges—not an expense you need on your tight budget.

6) See it, gotta have it

Are you one of those people who can't walk by a mall without having money disappear from your pocket? Do infomercials give you goose bumps? Are you happiest when you're handing over cash for something you simply can't pass up? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, start counting to 10, 100 or 1,000 before buying anything. Don't buy anything without planning to buy it. This sounds radical, but radical measures are in order when spending is too great a temptation. Before you go shopping for basic needs—like toothpaste and soap—make a list. Then head for the store and buy only what's on the list. As for the cool coat you pass on the way, keep walking … and counting to a thousand.

7) Banking on Mom and Dad

Throughout your life, your mom and dad were always there for you. Their wallets were there for you, too. A dollar for a candy bar. A few bucks for movie. A twenty to fill your tank. But now things have changed. Sure, Mom and Dad will probably send you a little "gift money" now and then. But don't depend on it. With major college bills hanging over their heads, money is likely tight for them, too. Your overspending or frequent requests can really hurt their own budget and even drain their savings account. So work hard to take responsibility for your own expenses and your own budget. Don't expect them to always bail you out or provide you with spending money. If needed, take on a few hours of work each week to help with your everyday expenses.

8) Loans to friends

Let's say a friend comes to you and asks you to loan him a five. We know what that really means, right? "Give me five bucks." The reality is, you'll probably never see that five again. Sure, buy an occasional Coke or candy bar for a friend. But keep it occasional and let them buy now and then, too. As for those friends who make borrowing a little cash a big habit, it's time to say kindly but firmly: "You know, I am on a tight budget just like you are. I have to watch each dollar I spend. So I can't loan you a buck. Sorry."

9) Vending vices

It's fine if you need a snack in the afternoon or a soda while studying. Just plan it out. If that's something you want, buy it in bulk. A 24-can case is much cheaper than 24 cans from the pop machine. A giant bag of M&Ms is a better deal than a few bags over a week from the vending machine. That 65 cents a day adds up, so fight those urges or think ahead so you have it covered—less expensively.

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