Welcome to our new section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
Graduating from college this past May was exciting, but also stressful. For me, it was the first time that I felt that I had no clear next step — and also the first time I had to deal with real financial stress. After finishing up at Colorado College I decided to move to New York City.
Having lived in the small city of Colorado Springs for the past four years, I knew that New York would be an adjustment. What I did not expect, and felt the least prepared for, were the prices. I had taken for granted the cost of the past four years: Once tuition was paid and textbooks were bought, I was lucky enough not to have to think about money on a day-to-day basis. However, this also untrained me how to budget, leaving me lost and overwhelmed as a young working professional, when budgeting is incredibly important.
At Colorado College, all I needed was a Gold Card, a piece of plastic that looked like a credit card, but was the key to our school. This card swiped you into dorms, classrooms, and the gym. It also got you food. Our meal plans were loaded onto the card and all you had to do was swipe when you wanted food. Some students nicknamed the meal plans “fake money” because using meal plan money didn’t have the same feeling as spending real money — you just swiped and you got the food. I never had to keep track of my on-campus meal spending: I ate when I was hungry, never looking at the prices of what I was buying, never worried about how much I was spending. I could go weeks without having to use anything but my Gold Card. I operated in the world of “fake money.”
During my four years at college, I was fortunate enough never to have felt the need to budget my money. Despite everything that my liberal arts education taught me, handling my personal finances was not one of them. Now, in New York, I am regretting that I didn’t spend more of those four years practicing for the real world. In the city, sports games and plays cost money, as does every meal and most forms of transportation.
Budgeting has always been a negative word for me. I never felt comfortable with math, and after a month in the city I am still struggling to perfect my budget. I am learning the real cost of things, tracking my spending, and trying to build a budget that will keep me from overspending without feeling constricted and stressed on a daily basis.
The biggest stressor of this whole project is learning to manage the everyday anxieties of the unknown and the what-ifs. I question myself all the time now. Will something better come along, or is this it? I constantly second guess most of my purchases, always looking back at my spending, over-analyzing whether or not it was a good use of my money, and feeling guilty, if in hindsight, I find it was not the best purchase.
I am learning to make budgeting less of a burden. For starters, I love to cook, as do my roommates, so we have at least one family meal a week that we plan ahead of time. This is helping me get in the habit of meal prepping and planning out the week so I don’t over buy at the grocery store, or eat out as much. I have also found that there is always a way to find a discount, so before buying anything I scour the internet for discount codes, or pull up the handful of apps I have that can find cheap tickets to plays and sporting events. Lastly, not everything has to cost money — I realize that grabbing my book and heading to Central Park is a great way to spend a weekend afternoon, especially when you have friends join you. The thought of budgeting is still daunting to me, but I’m working on controlling the stress by allowing myself the time to learn.
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