I recently completed my first year at Virginia Commonwealth University as a chemistry major. While lots of learning happened in the classroom, a lot more happened outside of the classroom. As a college student I’m more independent, and I had to learn to live within a budget and handle money on my own.
A few weeks into the first semester, my wallet was stolen from my residence hall. I immediately cancelled my debit card and my student ID. It felt like my life fell apart and that my identity was taken away from me. I was without my debit card for about a month before a new one was issued to me. All I had was some cash and the money on my new VCU student ID. My wallet was never recovered by the VCU police, but I learned many valuable lessons. Now, I make sure my wallet is with me at all times. I don’t trust anyone with my belongings. If you notice something is missing, call your bank to cancel your card and make sure no money is missing from your bank accounts.
Since I go to school in a city, most people live in off-campus apartments their second year, which means I had to start looking for a place to live for my sophomore year. I decided to live with a friend. We discussed our ideal location and agreed on a reasonable budget. During second semester after we started touring houses in The Fan area of Richmond, my roommate wanted to increase the budget by $300 because she found a place 5 minutes from campus with a balcony. I didn’t want to increase my budget because paying that much money in Richmond seemed unreasonable, and a balcony wasn’t a good enough reason for me to spend more money.
In the end, I found two new roommates and a 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom house on Monument Avenue for a lot less money than what my ex-roommate wanted to pay; plus it’s walking distance from campus! I realized finding a place to live is difficult. I also learned that it’s important to make sure you and the person you are planning on living with are on the same page with everything. Communication is key.
I’m on the school’s standard meal plan which gives me $300 dining dollars and 250 swipes (meals). The food on the meal plan is decent, but there are much better restaurants in Richmond. It’s tempting to go out and spend my money on food because it surrounds me, but I make sure I use up my entire meal plan before I splurge at the end of each semester. But my friends and I treat ourselves to Sunday brunch once a month at a different restaurant. An occasional treat helps me avoid the temptation to constantly spend money on things I don’t need, such as food when I already have the school’s meal plan.
Another thing I learned during my first year in college was how to be a smart spender. College is expensive! Which is why spending smart can be hard, but I made it work. Some textbooks cost around $300, but I rent most of mine from Amazon for $20 a semester. When I do buy books, I re-sell them to other students or back to the book stores. At the end of the year, I sold a few of my things to vintage stores and to other students -- like my bed sheets, comforter, and some clothes that I don’t wear anymore. Also, I set some realistic financial goals for myself. My goals included sticking to a spending plan each month, using all of my dining plan, and not wasting any more money on Starbucks. Having a few small goals helped me to not go over my monthly budget and actually save money in the long run.
I’m happy that I learned so much useful information both inside and outside the classroom. I can’t wait to see what I learn in the future!