Students struggle to control unnecessary spending

Senior Frankie Palacios could never afford to waste her money. Without support from her family, she spent the last five years as a full time college student with a full time job, and the responsibility to pay for the roof over her head.

She decided to enroll at CSUN for the unique queer studies program, although there were other universities located at a more convenient distance, adding the cost of commuting on top of groceries, insurance and everyday expenses.

Balancing classes, a nine-to-five job and maintaining a social life while balancing a check book is a skill she has been forced to learn in order to survive.

“It was trial and error,” said Palacios. “I was 21 and I wanted to go out all the time. I had a problem with overspending, especially on food. It was the first time being on my own and I did not know how to shop.”

Like many other students, Palacios spent money on unnecessary items.

“I even put off things because I decided I wanted expensive shoes or a $50 hair cut,” said Palacios.

According to Gayane Jerome, coordinator of the Financial Literacy Program, Palacios is not alone in her difficult experiences with money management.

Jerome conducted a survey of about 1,400 students in the spring and found that half of the participants did not create a monthly budget, nor did they balance their checking account. About a third of the participants had up to $4,000 in credit card debt and about 10 percent had $5,000 or more.

Jerome said she administered the survey to better understand students’ financial needs and behaviors. The post-graduate struggle with student debt is a consequence of financial mismanagement during their school years, she said.

“The main problem many college students have in managing their debt level is controlling their everyday spending, which can add up in ways you may not expect,” said Jerome.

Jerome said that not understanding or prioritizing between needs and wants can derail a student from healthy finances.

“Magazines, lattes, snacks from the convenience store are money wasters,” said Jerome.

Senior Gurpreet Basraon, 21, found that cutting back on the little things prevents unnecessary cuts into her wallet.

“One thing I spent too much on was food,” said Basraon. “I was spending $20 per week on coffee. I bought a coffee maker this semester and I am saving about $100 a month now.”

Basraon said she is relatively responsible with her finances because she gives herself incentives for good behavior. She saves her earnings during the semester and then uses it to travel with friends or go abroad.

Jerome explained that incorporating short, intermediate and long term goals into your budget helps to save. The basics of financial literacy includes “goal setting, consistently making good decisions, sticking to a spending plan and living within means,” she said.

“I’m trying to change just on my eating habits and not buying food or coffee outside of home,” said Basraon, who is trying to save up for a trip to India with a non-profit organization next summer.  “When I do eat out, I don’t buy soda. I buy water, and it’s a healthier choice anyway.”

Jerome stressed the importance of financial literacy especially because of the current economic situation.

“Students see their parents struggling and losing jobs,” Jerome said. “They see they need to do something different from their parents, unless their parents are a good example.”

Jerome said students struggling with money matters can seek help from the Financial Literacy Program.

Based on the results of the survey, Jerome developed workshops on topics such as budgeting, credit card management, identity theft and eating healthy on a budget. Workshops are offered every semester through the Campus Voice program in the dorms.

“Money management is a skill, and like any other skill, it can be and needs to be learned,” said Jerome. “It’s not something we just innately have. Learn what it is and practice it consistently to get better at it, and once you see the results, it’s easier to practice.”

For Palacios, she learned for her situation it meant moving her money to a smaller bank and using online financial resources such as mint.com. She still lives paycheck to paycheck, but has managed to build up a savings account that in her opinion, is fairly good.

“Exercise your personal power with your wallet,” said Palacios.

She strives to find a balance between saving and spending in a way that works for her lifestyle and personality.

“I’m a lot of fun!” said Palacios. “But I want to be smarter with how to spend money.”