If you agree that tracking your spending would be helpful, we suggest tracking each and every purchase for a week or two. You may spend money for items that were not included in your budget or you may find ways to reduce your budget for certain categories.
Little expenses can add up in big ways, and tracking your spending is a great first step to reducing your expenses. A budget can also be helpful in saving for one-time expenses, like a vacation or holiday gifts. It's much easier to save a few dollars per week in advance than to be stuck with an unplanned credit card bill.
One word of caution - while you will eventually want your income to exceed the amount of money you spend, that's not always possible for full-time students. In fact, trying too hard to lower college debt is not necessarily a great idea, especially if it means working more than 20 hours per week at a part-time job. Studies have shown that working more than 20 hours per week is likely to cause academic performance to suffer. Full-time students who work around nine hours per week tend to have the best academic performance, even better than students who do not work at all.
Having some financial stress is normal for college students, but if finances interfere with your school work, or if you have to put necessary expenses on credit cards, you may want to consider speaking with someone in your school's aid office. Other financial options may be available to help you succeed both financially and academically.
Finally, college can be a great experience both inside and outside of the classroom, and sometimes you do have to spend money to have fun. You may feel this course exaggerates the gloom and doom of debt, and you may be right. But studies have shown that students do graduate with more debt - especially credit card debt - than they ever expected.
We only ask that you consider setting a budget for non-essential expenses. That way, you are making informed decisions that are right for you. And remember, if you bust your budget one week, you can make up for it by living on the cheap for a week or two thereafter.