Monday, August 17, 2009

Congratulations! Your First Apartment!

Now, what's next?

Having just signed my first lease a few weeks ago, I've had and still have a ton to learn about managing money, how banks work (and their policies), and how to set up a budget. A couple scares and shame of my lack of knowledge have given me impetus to learn and explore. Sadly, as my mother has pointed out (yes, I am the twenty-year-old daughter in question), there are more campaigns telling college students to spend, rather than resources telling them how to be responsible. I see a lot of this first hand, as many of my own friends have either fallen into credit card debt or have taken out the equivalent of a mortgage in student loans, all before buying their first houses. Even though my parents gave me sound advice from the beginning, there are many things I had to learn trial and error. All so I could put my money toward big expenses, rent being one of them.

A few tips for the beginning:

1. If you haven't been as good at managing money before and are now in a position where you are fronting your own rent, calm down. You won't make things easier by freaking out. In fact, you will only make things worse because instead of gaining control of your finances, you will be losing control of yourself. So, take a deep breath and know that you can do this.

2. Start keeping track of what you're spending. Everything. Every dollar. Keep all your receipts and write it down. If you're like me and you haven't been as good, pick a free day and just sit with your notebook, bank statements (yay, online banking!) and receipts and write it down. At the end of the month, sit down and figure where your money went. This is the first step to figuring out your budget. It will also help you see what portion of your money went to stupid stuff (and surprisingly, a lot of it does).

3. Learn about banks' rules and policies. It may seem like a waste of time but I'll admit, when I first came to college, all I knew was how to put money in and how to take it out. I didn't know about overdraft fees until I had to pay them. I didn't know checks were no good after six months. I didn't know the bank could have you pay fees just for using your debit card (yes, this is true). Seriously, this is stuff everyone should know, but for one reason or another, I didn't. Not only that, but it could help with bank shopping, with taking time to choose the best bank before you sign the dotted line.

4. For big expenses, plan ahead. There are some things you already know you have to plan for. For us college kids, we know we have to buy books in August and January. Thus, we need to plan for that. Or for study abroad, for any trip we want to take. You know you want to do it months in advance, you should plan for that financially as well. Savings. Start now.

5. Smile. You're starting to take control of your own finances. That means control of your life. And that is incredible.

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