Sunday, 31 January 2016

Money management

My university term officially starts up again tomorrow and the foreboding reality of lectures, seminars and essays soon to come has brought me abruptly back down to earth. I want to sort out any non-academic concerns before I get back into the routine of uni so I can make myself focus on all that important literary, writerly stuff. One of these little concerns has been money management.

In the weeks since Christmas I've been a little too frivolous with my spending and haven't really kept track of my outgoings. Since I'm a student and only work during holidays, I have to be careful about how much is going out of my bank account when... well, there' s nothing really going in. This is where my termly budgeting comes in.

Now, there's something you need to realise. I'm not a well organised human being. I find budgeting quite difficult because I'm useless at estimating how much things will cost. I've looked online a few times over the years for a budgeting calculator that might help me, but the problem with these is that they all want exact figures of how much you will spend within each 'category' every week or month. There's a downfall to this method: does anyone, especially a student, actually know exactly how much they'll spend on each and every thing? I'm not one to make all my plans in advance so it'd be impossible for me to determine where every penny is going to go for the whole term. I like life to be a little more impromptu than that - what if I want to go out one night but haven't budgeted for the occasion? It didn't take me long to decide that this kind of exactitude wouldn't work for me as a money management technique.

I realised that I'd have to figure out my own way, to make my own sort of Budgeting for Dummies. I'm usually utterly rubbish with money but I've found that keeping track of my spending in a simple way really helps me to stay on top of it all.

At the start of each term the first thing I do is make a note of my balance. I then minus any absolutely essential outgoings from this. Usually for me that's just monthly rent, and I sort bills and food etc. within my weekly spending. The next thing I do is look at how many weeks there'll be in the term and work out my ideal weekly budget based on my remaining balance (always leaving a bit spare to compensate for the odd over-budget week and emergencies).

After I've sorted that part out, I put my weekly budgets for the whole term into an app called Monefy. This app is a total godsend and if you're an Android user I'd absolutely recommend it. As far as I know, the Spendee app is fairly similar and that's available for iOS, so don't fear if you're an Apple aficionado.

The best thing about Monefy is its simplicity. I've included two screenshots below of the app showing my week's spending from back in December. The first is the main page that you see when you open the app, which gives you a breakdown of your balances for the current week and shows you a handy colour coded chart. This makes it easy to assess within which categories you're spending the most. The plus and minus symbols allow you to quickly add any incoming or outgoing expenses. If you tap the green 'balance' button the app shows you the page on the right, which gives you more precise details of your spending.

The way in which the app breaks down your spending for you by letting you categorise each expense is incredibly useful for learning more about your spending habits, and how to better organise and control them in future. The problem I'd had previously was not knowing how much I'd be spending within each of these categories, but after using this app for a few weeks the emerging spending patterns are easy to observe. The whole interface is clear and makes tracking your expenditures so much less of a chore! Another feature that I love is the widget which you can add to your phone's home screen (screenshot below). I use this to quickly add even the smallest of spends before I forget about them - things like a cup of tea bought during the uni day or one off necessities. If I was trying to track everything myself with pen and paper, there's no way I'd remember all the small things. Seeing the widget there at the bottom of my page whenever I look at my phone reminds me to put everything in.

I used this method for the whole of last term and it worked really well. Being able to see where my weekly balance stands at any time gives me peace of mind and means I can make decisions about purchases in an instant. Best of all, it means I can worry about the more important things and pretty much let my budgeting take care of itself! I hope that all I've learned on my way to better money management is helpful. Let me know if you use any apps to help you budget, whether you're another cash-strapped student or just want to be a more savvy spender in general.

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