With so much going on at this point in the college semester, finances can often take a back seat. All of your major purchases for the beginning of a new semester—such as books and security deposits—have been completed and, ideally, you're busy focusing on things like midterms and Halloween.
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Even though your finances may not be a priority in your daily life, it's incredibly important to give yourself a mid-semester financial checkup. The financial choices you make now will have lasting consequences for the rest of the semester, and let's face it: No one wants to be that student who has to bum meals off of their friends' meal plans during the last week or two of classes.
A few quick questions and a glance at your checking account can do wonders for your financial health. With everything else you have going on, who wants to have to worry about running out of money in a month or two?
1. How am I spending money so far? Do you have a feeling in the pit of your stomach that you're not spending your cash responsibly? Do you think you're being too strict with yourself? Do you simply have no idea one way or the other?
Knowing how you're spending your money is key for knowing if you're financially healthy. If you've gone through 80 percent of the money you have access to for the fall semester but are only 50 percent of the way through the semester, you don't need a college degree to know that something's not right.
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Make a quick list of the major expenses you still need to cover before this semester ends: flights home for the holidays, a new jacket, fees for a sports team or your fraternity or sorority. Deduct that from what's left in your checking account and you can get a general idea of how things are going financially—and if you need to change anything.
2. What are my spending patterns? Check out your bank account online and see where most of your money is going. Are you spending wisely on things like books, printer paper, and lab fees? Or have you been going out to eat a lot? What, if anything, about your pattern so far do you need to change?
Consider, too, that the pattern you've established so far indicates the things you both want and need during your time in college. You need things like computer repairs, new printer cartridges, and blue books for exams. You don't need things like going out to eat every night or another new sweater when you already have enough – those are the things you want, not need.
Once you've listed the needs you have for the rest of the semester, figure out if you can absorb any of your wants. If you've realized that you like getting coffee on Thursdays when you have a really long day of classes, put that into your list of expenses. If you seem to be going out a lot on Saturday nights for dinner with your friends, put that into your budget, too. Then you can treat yourself to your Thursday coffee and your weekend dinner without worrying if you have the money for them—or not.
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3. What's my credit card situation? One important piece of your financial situation is your credit card. The money you spend from a credit card won't show up in your bank account, but those charges will come due sooner or later.
If you're racking up debt that you don't have the money for, you'll need to change your spending patterns. Credit cards can be helpful in college—say, to book a flight home for an emergency—but they can also be very dangerous. Your credit card use is part of your financial picture, too, so make sure that you're in control of your spending instead of having your spending be in control of you.
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What lessons have you learned from your spending in college? Are you too frugal? Too loose with your money? Or is college simply too expensive to be able to afford anything but the basics? Share your thoughts with other readers in the comments below.