If you’ve found yourself eating bulk noodles smothered in something labelled simply as “red sauce” at the end of the school year, don’t worry, you’re not the first and you certainly won’t be the last.  There are steps you can start taking to make sure that your summer job income or student loan can stretch into next school year.

I get that budgeting isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but honestly, it’s minimal short-term pain for a whole lot of gain.  Plus, there are all kinds of apps that can help; including a user-friendly colour-coded downloadable template created by yours truly, exclusively for Canadian students.  Once you develop a routine, it won’t take you more than a few minutes each month to stay on track of your finances.

While New Year’s seems to be the time everyone makes resolutions, I’ve always thought spring felt like the more biologically intuitive time to consider new beginnings, especially for students.

With the school year just finishing up it’s a great time to decide what financial habits you’d like to keep going forward, and which ones you’re better off without?  This is essentially what a budget is all about.  It’s not just a bunch of numbers; it’s all about deciding what is truly important to you to help determine what to spend your money on.

I like to explain budgets using the jar analogy.  Think of all the money you’re going to make at your summer or part-time job, through scholarships, etc…  That’s your jar.  Your goal is obviously to pack as much cool stuff into that jar as possible without breaking it and causing you problems such as an overdrawn bank account and overdraft fees.

Your first step is to consider all the major expenses that you don’t really have much choice in paying.  These relatively large stones go in first.  After all, you have to eat, pay the rent, cover tuition, and spring for the odd textbook.  These expenses are non-negotiable.

Next into the jar are the pebbles.  Pebbles are really nice to have, but there’s only room for so many of them once you’ve placed the stones.  For some people pebbles might be a car, a trip, or hockey tickets.    It’s worth your time to really think about which pebbles bring the most pleasure to your life because for most students there will only be room for a select few.

Finally, we have our small daily purchases that add flavour to life.  These seemingly small purchases can add up in a hurry, but individually they’re like grains of sand.  You need to think about how much money you want to put towards activities such as eating out, the movies, and daily double-doubles.  Many students have a tough time getting their “sand expenses” under control and often underestimate just how much they spend here.

Once you’ve decided what’s most important, it’s relatively easy to plug those numbers into your template, budget app, or basic pen-and-paper list.  I recommend creating a monthly budget, but weekly can work as well.  Budgeting isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution and should be adapted to allow you the greatest chance to stay on track and realize your goals.

There’s no need to wait until September to get a preliminary budget together.  Look back at the past few months and really check what you spend money on.  Many of us will be shocked when we see how much those high-priced snacks or Saturday nights out cost us over the course of a school year.  Decide what you really want to spend your money on going into next year, and then try not to drift too far off of your plan.  After all, once you’ve decided how to get the most fun out of your jar, there’s no use in going back to the old strategy of breaking it and hoping for the best!