Budgeting, as a concept, is very simple. You manage inputs and outputs, hopefully keeping the latter higher than the former.
If you’re anything like me, you learned the basics of budgeting when you were 10 years old by playing Age of Empires II. You had to manage the production of resources – wood, food, gold, and stone – in order to build new facilities, research technologies, and advance through the ages.
Eventually, you just typed in the cheat code for the red sports car with laser cannons and tore the Celts a new one. But, and it pains me to say this, there are no laser-shooting sports car cheats in real life.
In this life, budgeting is even more important. The lack of cheat codes and the general importance of having enough money to eat mean you need to have a little bit of budgeting competence. If you want to actually graduate from college and end up debt-free, well, you’ll need to know a bit more.
Today, I’ll impart my thoughts and experience in the realm of budgeting with an emphasis on doing it in college. As a student, you’ve got to deal with several factors that don’t come up in other stages of life – and you’ve generally got pretty small coffers to boot.
Do You Even Need to “Budget?”
Let’s put something straight here. If you look at my other “Ultimate Guide”-style posts – the one on how to build a personal website, for example – you’ll notice that this one, though lengthy, is still decidedly shorter. Why?
Well, to be honest, I don’t really want you to have to put a whole ton of thought into budgeting. It should be simple and, after some initial setup, it should become little more than a background process in your head. It shouldn’t be an item of too much concern once you’ve structure everything correctly and fixed your spending habits.
Think of your mind’s ideal picture of “budgeting.” What comes up? Do you think of the financially savvy member of the household sitting at the table every month, writing down spending caps in all the family’s different expense categories and minutely balancing available funds?
This, my friend, is called micromanaging. It’s something you probably don’t want to be doing with your time. And, incidentally, it’s something the best budgeters actually don’t do.