Last quarter, my money flowed out of my wallet like water. As a freshman, being away from home for the first time meant that I had to start taking care of myself and making responsible decisions: i.e. going to sleep and waking up at reasonable hours, eating at least two meals a day, and budgeting my time, money and resources. None of this really worked out.

In high school, I put every other paycheck I earned into a savings account. I was adamant about never breaking into it. But last quarter, I completely exhausted everything in my checking account and started transferring money over from my savings; I was unable to prioritize what I was spending my money on.

Most of my money didn’t even go to big purchases. It was an accumulation of $5 party fees, Burger King runs, weekends spent in coffee shops and midnight vending machine snacks. Little purchases add up.

This quarter, I made a pact to myself to undo the damage I’d done. To do that, I had to understand what was actually important enough for me to crack into my reserves for. By cutting down on my daily smaller purchases and saving for bigger ones, I was hoping to distill my understanding of what’s important to me and get to the core of my personality.

My Experience:

Setting a Budget

I downloaded the Cleo app, which was recommended to me by a friend (not an ad, I’m sure any other app would work the same way). With Cleo, I entered my income and bills and told the app to give me a reasonable one-week budget that also accounted for saving some of my income.

Hence the $20 budget.

My Week


I mainly spend money when I have free time. This was not the case on Monday.

However, I do love midnight snacking. Usually, I keep snacks in my room, but my roommate and I ran out and haven’t felt up to walking to Target in the cold. Instead, I bought myself fruit snacks from the vending machine.

Daily Spendings: $1.35

Total Spendings: $1.35

Tuesday - Thursday:

These days, I didn’t spend any money. I refrained myself from buying anything from the vending machine because I wanted to have money for spontaneous weekend plans with friends.

Thankfully, with the help of dining dollars, I got hot chocolate at Brewbike a couple of times.

Daily Spendings: $0.00

Total Spendings: $1.35


Under the Arch Programming hosted an event at Lock Chicago, so I spent my evening at a free escape room. We also got free Kilwin’s hot chocolate afterward. If I hadn’t gone with the university, individual entry to Lock Chicago would have been $32.95, and  the hot chocolate would have been around $4. Oh, how I love free stuff.

Yay, savings!

Daily Spendings: $0.00

Total Spendings: $1.35


Watched a movie (it was Parasite… would definitely recommend if you haven’t watched it yet). Fun fact: the theater in Downtown Evanston has an early bird discount if you watch the first matinee showing before 1:00 p.m. Instead of spending $10 or more on my ticket, I got it for $7! I figured that spending less on one ticket meant that I could watch more movies during the week, seeing as I want to catch up on the Oscar nominees.

I also spent $1 on a cup of coffee from the vending machine in the Shepard basement.

Daily Spendings: $8.02

Total Spendings: $9.37

So basically, by the end of the week, I only spent half my budget! I think a lot of it was being hyper-aware of just how much I usually buy food from the vending machine or buy coffee downtown.

Tips and Tricks

Drink coffee from the dining hall.

I get that sometimes it’s hard to take on the day without that extra jolt of energy. However, I learned that my caffeine habit doesn’t have to be the reason I’m broke. Dining hall coffee isn’t bad if you add cream and sugar and stir it with a regular spoon instead of pasta.

When I get breakfast, I take a reusable cup with me so I can take my coffee on the go and won’t be tempted to make a pit stop somewhere where I would have to spend money.

Keep snacks stocked in your room.

Either purchase snacks in bulk or invest in a reusable takeout container from one of the dining halls. Even better, if you return the takeout container, you get your $5 back. Buying bigger snack bags at Target might feel like splurging in the moment, but the cost of snacks from the vending machine adds up to more money in the long term.

Watch discounted movies

Go to Cinemark before 1:00 p.m. for the early bird discount. Also, Evanston’s movie theater is cheaper on Tuesdays, so maybe make Tuesdays your movie night?

Take advantage of University programmed events

These events tend to fill up quickly, so sign up for them ASAP to ensure you have a spot. That way, you can ensure that you’ll have something fun and free scheduled into your free time, and you won’t be tempted to spend money elsewhere.

Download a budgeting app.

Cleo helps you track your spending habits and roasts you with (relevant) memes if you go over budget.

Remember why you’re budgeting!

Is there something you’re saving up for? Whether you want to invest in a new pair of Docs, get a tattoo or piercing, go to a concert, etc., you’re going to have to cut down your spending in another area of your life. I’ve found that my larger purchases are much more fulfilling than a 2 a.m. Burger King milkshake.

However, keep in mind that we’re all human and don’t beat yourself up if you overspend a little! Setting a budget and trying to stick to it is still progress. If instead of spending $40 a week, you set a $20 budget for yourself and spend $25, you’re still saving $15 more than last week. That’s all that matters. Also, you still deserve to have fun! If an event is only going to happen once, most of the time, it’s better to say yes to the experience.