Meet Arianna. She’s a 30-something, second-year grad student who’s learning and teaching Italian at the University of Florida. She’d say she’s in limbo since she’s transitioning into a new career field. But I still wanted to know more about what it’s been like for her budgeting as a student, and she was kind enough to let me peek into that part of her life via Zoom.
In addition to sharing her thoughts on budgeting as a student, she shared how she developed her values around money as a young kid, as well as what she sees next for herself when she’s done with school.
Read on for the full conversation. Note that her quotes have been edited for clarity and length.
Q. How long have you been budgeting? How long have you been using Goodbudget?
I’ve probably been budgeting for the last eight years or so. And then I started budgeting with Goodbudget in 2015, so the last six years.
The way I was budgeting before wasn’t that official, and it wasn’t very structured. I was using an Excel sheet that I got from a friend that I tailored to fit myself. It wasn’t like Goodbudget where I’d tell the Excel sheet how much I wanted to spend ahead of time. Instead, I’d put in my expenses for the month, and I’d then be able to see how much I was spending and where I should cut back or make changes.
Q. You said you got that Excel budget from a friend. Did you ask for it, or did she just give it to you unsolicited?
I asked her for it! I wasn’t too interested in budgeting at first, because I never really had issues with money. Since my first job when I was young, my mom told me to put half of my paycheck away. I always followed that advice. But I liked the idea of not living paycheck to paycheck so I started to get interested in the idea of budgeting. I had this friend who was really good at budgeting, and so I asked her about how she budgeted and that’s when she shared her Excel budget with me. Over time I started to get more into budgeting, but it took some time.
Q. You said you didn’t want to live paycheck to paycheck. Can you go into more detail about that?
I grew up in a large family, there were eight of us, and sometimes more if aunts or uncles came to live with us temporarily. We didn’t have extra money to spend on things. My friends had allowances, but we didn’t have that. I remember not being able to go to the movies or hang out with friends because I didn’t have the money to do that.
Then, when I was able to get a job at fifteen and a half, I did. I wanted to be able to help my family as well as have some extra so I could go to the mall with friends and do random kid things.
So I think just growing up and not having a lot of extra money to treat myself or do fun things made me not want to go and spend my entire paycheck and to make sure that I had a little bit of a cushion so that I never got to the point where I had nothing.
Q. What would you say are the challenges of being a student and keeping a budget?
In general, the limited income. It’s actually not as hard right now because of the pandemic. But pre-pandemic, I had to limit how many times I was eating out or going to bars with friends or colleagues. I already tended to tighten my budget when it came to those kinds of things because they’re not necessities.
What’s most difficult is missing out on the personal connections. Eating out might be convenient and easier sometimes, but also, when you eat out, you’re often with friends or colleagues, which allows you to build these new connections. That’s really hard to say no to. And I think it’s a shame because college is such a formative time for many people. You get to experience new things and meet new people, and it’s difficult to have to limit yourself because of finances.
I’m learning that it’s a balancing act. You have to balance your social life with being a responsible adult who’s also paying for school costs and other bills.
Q. What helps you work through those challenges?
Again, things are easier because of the pandemic. People aren’t really going out that much, so money’s been great. But before the pandemic, and even sometimes now, I cheat a little bit. Especially at the end of the semester when I’ll get really busy, I’ll tend to eat out more. If I go over on Eating Out, but Groceries still has money in it, then I know that there’s that cushion I can use so I’m not totally over budget.
I think that goes back to what I was saying earlier about not wanting to live paycheck to paycheck. If I have a bad budgeting month where I just go over on lots of stuff, I know it’s okay because I do have a cushion in a Savings Envelope that I can fall back on. Plus I know that I can just try to tighten up a little more the following month so I stay on budget next time. I know if I weren’t budgeting, I’d feel a lot more worried about this. Because I am budgeting and know where my money’s going and how much I have, I don’t have to feel as stressed.
Q. What financial goals do you want to tackle when you’re done with school?
There are a lot! In the ideal situation where I have a stable job, I actually would like to buy a new car. Not a brand new car, but just a newer car, so that the AC works. Especially here in Florida, my car hasn’t been the best because it’s so hot here and my AC doesn’t work.
For a long-term goal, I would like to save up for a down payment on a home.
Q. What kind of encouragement would you give to students, or people in general, who want to start budgeting but aren’t sure how to get started?
That’s a good question! I would just say start off small. Whether you have small goals or are having trouble saving, just try putting aside 25 bucks each paycheck and it’ll add up. Then, slowly start increasing that amount if and when you can.
Also, when you’re just starting out, don’t be so hard on yourself. If you can’t hit your savings target or go over budget, just give yourself grace because it is a learning experience. When I first started with Goodbudget, I remember having a lot of red Envelopes because I was still figuring out what I really needed, and how much I really spent.
So just start off doing what you can and know that it’s okay to mess up.