How to live a “wow” life on a “lol” budget

Living on a student budget

Decision making is difficult

Being a tertiary student can take a toll on you sometimes. Just yesterday you were in high school, where your teachers and parents were taking care of you. If, just like me, you grew up in the average South African home, most of the decisions were made for you. At times, you weren’t as thrilled about these decisions being made on your behalf or the fact that your parents ran your life. Looking back at my teenage years, it feels like I was the opposition party to my parents’ ruling party. Those years were filled with short moments of happiness and long moments of disagreement between my parents and me.

After matric I came to Wits, and despite being older than the average student who enrols in university, I wasn’t as prepared as I thought. I remember clearly being accepted for all three of the degrees I applied for: two BSc Engineering degrees and a BSc General degree. These three choices made me dizzy and I was low-key freaking out. However, not wanting to appear clueless and weak, the younger me decided to go for BSc General with mathematics, chemistry, and physics as the majors. I made this choice knowing full well I was not a fan of either mathematics or physics. Immediately after getting my student card, I realized I had just made a mistake and ran to the Student Enrolment Centre to deregister for BSc General. Luckily, I was able to enrol for something different that I enjoyed and excelled in.

The moral of the story is that we are often tasked with making huge decisions that have a great impact on our lives. The challenge often lies in the fact that we do not have a clue on how to go about making these decisions.

In order to guide those of you who may be new to the concept of financial education and wellness, I have put together a list of my personal money survival tips that I use daily. I developed them in my undergraduate years at university and I apply them to this day. These tips help me use my money as wisely as possible each day, and my mastery level is currently sitting at 66.2%.

My money tips and tricks

The money tips I speak about are as follows:

  1. Define your goals! I call this defining your finish line. Be clear on what you are saving or investing for and try to estimate how much you will need to have in order to reach the goal.
  2. Budget! There are those amongst us who are natural-born accountants who want to know where every last cent has gone. They will usually draw up a budget that is very detailed. Personally, I don’t draw up detailed budgets but rather assign my bank cards different functions. Practically, this may look like the following:
    • Savings and investments (10%): Also known as, “paying yourself first”. There is no better time to start paying yourself first than now. To make paying yourself first a habit, you may need to avoid certain lifestyles for the sake of your own financial future. This amount doesn’t have to be a lot; you just need to start paying yourself something as soon as you receive your income or allowance. You can always increase the amount in the future.
    • Living expenses (60%): Living expenses includes money you spend on a monthly basis on everything that you need to survive. If you must contribute towards helping your family, this can go under here.
    • Emergency Fund (10%): An emergency fund is for life’s unexpected circumstances that may require money to solve. On average, an emergency fund includes about three months’ worth of living expenses. You can aim for 6 or months. If you don’t enough money put away to cover you this long, just put as much as you can into the fund. The fund will build up over time. Look for savings accounts that have an interest rate higher than inflation. It’s important to include an emergency fund in your budget.
    • Charity (10%): Tithing and giving to a good cause falls under this category. As a student or an average S.A. youth, you may not have that much money to spare for charity, so you can opt for giving back to charity in the form of time, knowledge sharing, and giving away items you no longer use on a regular basis. Doing this instead of giving away physical cash helps you give back to others and keep a bit of extra change in your pocket.
    • Miscellaneous (10%): This is where you can put money for fun activities such movies, eating out, and so forth.
    • The method above of assigning your money into different functions can work even if you get a lump sum for your allowance instead of monthly pay out.
  3. If it can be bought cheaply or in bulk, do it! One other trick I still use to this day is to stock up on my non-perishables. The reason I can stock up in bulk is because most of the items we use or consume can be bought and stored for many months or even years. So, there is no worry about my food going bad. When I was still an undergraduate student, and living on a “student budget,” my friends and I used to go shopping together. We all wrote down what we wanted and went mostly to Makro for our shopping; the shop always has great specials. You get to buy what you want at half the price. I still shop where there are specials even today. Sometimes, in order to buy in bulk, I approach other customers at the store who are buying similar items as me. After our bulk shopping, we end up splitting the bill on the items we bought and we both get what we initially wanted at a reduced cost.
  4. Steer clear of impulsive and peer pressure purchases! They say bad company corrupts good manners. Similarly, purchases made because of peer pressure and impulsive buying can lead to financial frustration. To cater for such expenses, do try to have a miscellaneous bank card on the side. Once the card dries up, be disciplined enough not to encroach into other financial territories like your savings or investments.

That completes all the tips I have for those starting on the journey to actively managing their finances. In the words of the famous comedic entertainer Kevin Hart: “Stay in your lane. Stay in your financial lane!”.

This article was written by Lizah Setsepu

You can contact Lizah Setsepu by clicking on the social media buttons below, or by emailing her on:

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