Using Winter Break Wisely: Develop a Budget

As winter break sets in, you’re probably planning the downtime. Will you organize your closet? Veg out in front of the television at your parents’ house? If you want to start next semester on the right foot, consider focusing on finances. A budget will help you keep your spending in line for the spring term.

Take Stock of Your Spending

Kristen Kuchar of The Simple Dollar recommends reviewing your finances from last semester. Did you rack up credit-card debt? Were you careless with impulse purchases? Find out how much money you have in the bank and where you’ll need to spend money before next semester starts.

Make a list of unhealthy financial habits you’ve developed, such as springing for restaurant meals instead of using your dining card on the pre-paid meal plan. Make a list of changes you want to make so you have more cash in your pocket before next summer.

Analyze Finance Apps

If you’re not fond of spreadsheets and ledgers, there’s an app for that. Look for either free or paid budget apps that allow you to track your income and expenses electronically. If you see where your money goes, you can better control your spending, especially if you’re prone to whipping out plastic every time something catches your eye.

Use the app to set budgeting goals and track your progress. Some apps allow you to sync the software with all of your devices or back up your information to the cloud. Look for an app that aligns with your financial goals and habits so you’re more likely to use it.

Build a Viable Budget

Now that you have the tools you need, get to work on your budget. Allocate a certain dollar amount to each of your expenses, from necessities like utilities and car insurance to niceties like entertainment and fashion accessories. Use the review you conducted of last semester’s finances to find places to shave spending.

The best budgets include at least a small cushion for savings. Even if you only transfer $5 per week into your savings account, you’ll finish the year with $260 that you don’t have now. Use that money only for emergencies so you always have a fallback for financial hardships.

Don’t Forget About the Future

A budget isn’t a static tool. It changes constantly based on your needs and circumstances. A short-term budget that covers just the spring semester leaves you room for adjustments down the road. Maybe you’ll get a seasonal job that improves your finances this summer or perhaps you’ll encounter an unexpected expense. Budgeting now will help you adjust as necessary.

As time passes, revisit your budget and make changes as needed — as long as those changes don’t coincide with your sudden desire to splurge or be wasteful. The more you work with your budget, the better you’ll understand your own habits and how to make small changes that can save you a lot.

While focusing on your finances might not seem like an exciting way to spend your winter break, it sets you up for a great spring semester. You’ll return to school with cash in your pocket and a plan for success.

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