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Life on a budget:

Making a withdrawal is easy. Dealing with the consequences of debt can be a pain in the you-know-what for a college student.
By Laura Wilson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
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A guide to living large and loving life with a bite-sized bankroll

For most students, going to college is about more than earning a degree. It's the first step toward total independence, in every sense of the word. As awesome as it is not to have to tell your parents who you are with, where you are going and when you will be home, it can be just as scary when you are faced with paying your own way through life. Following a budget is not taught in most classrooms, but it is something that you will be tested on almost every day of your newly independent life. Luckily, there are some easy steps you can take to ensure that you won't miss out on all that college has to offer, regardless of the size of your bank account.

Speaking of bank accounts, do you have one? Even if you have one back home, wherever home may be, it would be to your benefit to open one locally. If your current bank doesn't offer ATMs on or near campus, you'll find that no matter how hard you try to avoid them, bank fees will begin piling up. While $1.50 may not seem like a lot of money, if you were to pay that charge just once a week for an entire year, you would be wasting $78 - that's about 16 Frappuccinos or 40 cheap pints of beer, whichever you prefer. The DM Federal Credit Union, 801 E. Speedway Blvd., offers membership to UA students, staff and faculty and has an ATM conveniently located inside the Student Union Memorial Center.

If it isn't already, your mailbox will soon be full of credit card offers. You may even encounter a table or twenty on the mall offering t-shirts, electronic planners or other things you really don't need in exchange for all of your personal information. Credit cards aren't inherently evil; in fact, building credit is an important step toward adulthood. However, you have to be responsible. Until you have a steady job, you should try to only make purchases on a credit card if you know you can pay them off at the end of the month. Treating friends to dinner is fun, but is that one night of good times worth 11 to 14 percent interest?

The most dangerous thing about credit cards is that they provide easy access to things you may not otherwise be able to afford. In the short run, credit cards can be a godsend. In the long run, they can be quite hellish.

Savings accounts, checking accounts and credit cards can all be a little overwhelming, but the fear of debt shouldn't overshadow the need for a social life. Somewhat surprisingly, fun doesn't always have an exorbitant price tag. It may take a little extra searching, but you can find cheap and/or free things to do all over campus.

Check out the Wildcat to see what is going on around the university area. On Thursdays, the GoWild section offers glimpses into upcoming events and provides a weekly entertainment calendar packed with free and low-cost events. The Gallagher Theater inside the Student Union Memorial Center often offers free sneak previews of upcoming movies, with tickets available on a first-com, first-served basis. Plus, several departments show movies on a weekly basis, so just keep your eyes open for notices.

However, if the smell of popcorn and a frigid climate are necessary for your moviegoing experience, there is a way to go to the theater without paying theater prices. The Crossroad Festival Cinemas, 4811 E. Grant Road, shows movies a few months after they come out for a fraction of the price: $3 a ticket. On Tuesdays, they offer 2-for-1 tickets. Now, aren't you glad you saved that ATM service fee?

If you'd rather spend your evenings listening to live music instead of soaking in cinema, there are several places around campus to fulfill such needs. Frog & Firkin, 874 E. University Blvd., occasionally hosts live bands, and for the price of a slice of pizza, you can listen to your heart's content. Epic Café, 743 N. Fourth Ave., has an open mic night once a week, which should keep you abreast of up-and-coming local musicians. If you're over 21, several bars on Fourth Avenue have not-yet-famous bands on a nightly basis, with little to no cover. I've yet to visit a bar that didn't have daily specials, so be sure to ask your bartender before you order. Keep in mind that being on a budget doesn't exclude you from having to tip.

The University of Arizona campus is also in the vicinity of dozens of restaurants, so it's unrealistic to think that you'll never spend money dining out. At the beginning of every semester, you'll find several different coupon books heaped on tables throughout campus. Grab some; you'll need these if you want to stick to your budget. When you do go out, try to remain price-conscious. Ordering water instead of soda can save you about $2 a meal, and taking home leftovers can provide lunch or dinner the next day. Also, get involved with clubs and activities. Most clubs offer food at their first meetings, and you may actually meet some new people.

Living within your means when you're a college student is hard, but it's not impossible. There will always be a new CD coming out, or a concert you just can't miss, or a new pair of jeans that you just can't live without, but it all comes down to being honest with yourself about what you can and can't afford. If you scrimp and save the majority of the time, a little splurging here and there is not out of the question. If you start now, you should have budgeting under control when it comes time to be a real adult.

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