Student using a calculator

A student using a calculator, March 8, 2019.

Congratulations, you have officially signed the lease for your new apartment. What’s the next step? Well, unlike living in a dorm room, when living in an apartment, electricity, water, gas, cable, wifi and air conditioning are not free.

In order to ensure that you do not go broke, it is crucial to carefully manage your budget and make sure that every single bill is paid on time, as late payments result in fines or other possible consequences. Luckily, there are a few tips and tricks that can help a student maintain a balanced budget without going broke.

The best way to manage a budget is to document it thoroughly whether it be on your laptop, a budgeting app or even via pencil and paper for those who prefer to do things old school. One recommended method of managing a budget is the use a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to keep track of monthly earnings and spendings.

The first step in creating an apartment budget is to figure out exactly what the rent entails. For some apartment complexes like The Edge, gas, wifi, water, electricity and cable are all included in the rent. However, others, like the Village, include a separate bill for some utilities that must be paid along with rent.

If cable and wifi are not free, a resident must decide whether or not they are truly needed. Of course, wifi is practically mandatory for any college student these days; however, those who rely on Netflix and other websites for television may not need to spend extra money on cable television.

Additionally, it is important to figure out whether there is a washing machine and dryer in the apartment or if laundry must be done at an external location for an additional charge. While laundry is not usually too expensive, it is still something that should be taken into consideration when managing a budget. Months and months of quarters add up.

Another factor is food. Those who live farther away from campus may prefer to eat off campus or prepare their own meals instead of purchasing a meal plan. It is important to put aside a portion of monthly earnings to spend on groceries and food to cook.

However, even for those who do not plan to purchase a meal plan, having a few dining dollars in your school account is a good idea, especially if you’re stuck on campus for long periods of time or spending a late night at the library.

Along with food, there are other materials needed when living outside a dorm, including cooking utensils as well as toilet paper and cleaning supplies. When living in an apartment, it is your own responsibility to clean the kitchen and bathroom because there is no janitorial staff.

And for those who plan on bringing their car, a number of apartments do offer free parking, but parking on campus is rather expensive. Those who want to save money may prefer to make use of public transportation like Blacksburg Transit. Although, even without an on-campus parking pass, maintenance of a car makes a serious dent in total monthly spending.

In additions to all these costs, you should put aside a certain amount of money for miscellaneous reasons, perhaps a dress you really like or a late night craving for Insomnia Cookies. It’s important to put some money aside for these types of impulsive purchases so you can treat yourself.

Overall, it’s crucial to keep track of each individual cost and calculate the amount of money spent as well as money earned. The money you earn each month includes any money earned from jobs or internships, as well as money provided by parents for extra help.

If the amount spent exceeds the amount earned that month, it is important to figure out what went wrong as soon as possible. Where did you overspend? Was the food budget not enough? It’s crucial to know where the overspending occurred.

Either way, the next step is to figure out where to cut spending from the next month. Obviously, rent and utility bills aren’t going to change, but other portions of the budget can be altered.

Any of the miscellaneous portion saved up over the past couple months should be used to pay for rent and utilities as well as any other immediate needs. In addition, you might have to avoid making any impulsive purchases for the next couple months.  The grocery budget can also be shortened for a short period of time in order to rebalance the budget.

Also, know when you need to ask for help. If you are having trouble paying for rent and utilities, do not be afraid to ask your parents for help, and if not, sit down and talk to the leasing office and see if they are willing to work with you.

Of course, these are all short-term solutions to the problem; the long term solution is to earn more money. If your parents are willing to provide you with a little more money, then that solves the problem; however, if not, the next best answer is to get a part-time job to supplement your income.

Another quick tip is to shop more carefully. This particularly applies to grocery shopping, where you need to pay closer attention to prices; perhaps purchase Kroger brand products instead of those with brand names.

Just make sure to maintain that financial balance and everything should be fine — at least as far as your new apartment goes. As long as the earning exceeds the spending, your budget is under control.