MoneyKey’s Key Thinkers Scholarship is designed to reward post-secondary students for their academic achievements. We asked “What does financial responsibility mean to you and what steps should students take to plan their budget?” and received hundreds of submissions. Below is the winning essay from the Fall 2017 Scholarship recipient Reilly McNamara:
To many college students, the idea of financial responsibility is an intimidating one. Most of us have never handled a large amount of money in our lives, and have relied on parents or relatives to make big financial decisions. Suddenly, we hop off to college, where we’re confronted by decisions about student loans, tuition costs, the price of living, and more. On top of worrying about our GPAs and futures, the issue of money can drive one crazy! Luckily, being financially responsible can be easily attained through the right attitude and preparation.
In my experience, financial responsibility has always come with a set of rules. The first of these is, “Never spend what you don’t have.” In other words, know how much disposable income you have to work with, and stick to it. I know, I know—_that Michael Kors handbag or those Air Jordan’s are incredibly tempting. I must admit, I do have my eye on a pair of Nike Free Run sneakers at the moment. However, I know that if I were to spend money on those shoes, I would be cutting into my grocery budget, and if there’s one thing I value more than a good pair of running shoes, it’s food. I don’t need the guilt that would come with buying the things I can live without, so I’ll continue to save and hope that those shoes will still be there on a rainy day. In return, I’ll be comforted by the fact that I know I have money for my necessities.
Financial responsibility also means having an organized plan for how you’ll be saving and spending money. This often means creating a budget, which can be daunting for many inexperienced college students. But fear not! It can be easy AND fun! Budgets are customizable, so if you decide you don’t like something about it, it’s very easy to change it. A good place to start is the basic 50/30/20 rule: spend 50% of your budget on necessities, 30% on wants, and 20% on savings and debt repayment. From here, you can decide what sort of plan and percentage works best for you. Using this technique, you’ll soon have a budgeting system that is almost second nature to you. Learning how to budget just became a whole lot easier!
The hardest part about becoming financially responsible is taking the first few steps to get started. As I stated above, it can be daunting, even overwhelming, to think about keeping track of all of your finances. Rule number three is one of my favourites: don’t overthink it! Always use what works for you—” this can be online banking, handwritten budget charts, even apps that help you track your spending habits. In a world full of ever-developing technology, there is no reason that we shouldn’t take advantage of it to improve our financial standing.
When I first began budgeting, I was a hot mess. I couldn’t figure out what percentages of my paycheck I wanted to save, how to avoid shopping temptations, and what format that I enjoyed using to keep track of financial fluctuations. My final piece of advice on budgeting is to never give up. It’s never too late to become financially responsible, and though it may seem like it’s difficult or confusing at first, every time you convince yourself to keep going helps you tremendously in the long run. Now, go forth, and budget, budget, budget!
Reilly McNamara is a sophomore at Vanderbilt University. She is pursuing a double major in Vocal Performance and Earth & Environmental Science and plans to use the scholarship to support these academic endeavors.