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Divesting from budget culture as a college student
Our founder Dana Miranda joined Mike Ayalon on the Fraternity Foodie Podcast to unpack budget culture and share money advice for college students.
From our blog writer: Carson Kohler has been writing for the web since 2016. Based in Arlington, Virginia, she is currently a writer at a national news organization.
For many college students, personal finance education is nonexistent. Instead, you walk across the stage at graduation saddled with debt. Good luck!
Then you get to the real world and everyone starts telling you what to do — how to budget, how to pay off debt, how to spend, how to save.
“That’s all budget culture,” Healthy Rich founder Dana Miranda says on an episode of the Fraternity Foodie Podcast. “We start to feel like we’re failing because we’re trying to follow these steps that we’re given and not living the life we want to live.”
Dana joined host Mike Ayalon to unpack budget culture, explain what keeps people broke and share money advice for college students — all intel she wishes she’d had when she was in college.
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What budget culture is ignoring
Let’s define budget culture. Budget culture is a damaging set of beliefs around money that rewards restriction and deprivation and promotes an unhealthy, fantastical idea of financial wellness.
If you just follow these steps, stick to this plan, you can become rich. You just have to do it right!
There are a lot of problems with budget culture, but there are two aspects in particular that make it so unhealthy.
First, budget culture ignores the nuances of our relationships with money. In other words, no one set of money rules is going to apply perfectly to everyone. There are many factors at play: gender, race, income, sexual orientation and so on.
Second — and related — budget culture completely ignores our general wellness. Money is just one facet of our lives that’s interwoven with everything else.
“It affects your decisions on where you go to school, where you work, the kind of food you eat, the housing you live in, the friends you have, the clothing you wear,” Dana says. “It affects everything you do every day, and you can’t just make a siloed financial decision based on a set of numbers you’re given.”
What keeps people broke
The reality is the financial system isn’t really built to support the majority of people. It’s set up for a select few people who have money — and who have the power to help them keep that money. So there are a lot of systematic forces at play that keep people stuck in a cycle of broke.
Mostly glaringly, pay gaps still exist based on gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, presentation, disabilities and more.
“There are a lot of very insidious things in the workplace that perpetuate and, in our culture, that keeps a very small group of people earning more money more easily and getting higher paying jobs,” Dana says.
You also have to look at systemic racism and historical policies like redlining that keep families from building generational wealth.
Even the country’s tax policies reward specific types of lifestyles. You get tax breaks when you’re married, own a home, have kids, work a W-2 job, save for retirement in specific ways — you name it.
“If you choose any different path, you’re going to have a harder time,” Dana says.
Money advice for college students (and anyone, really)
Dana, who attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, shares money advice for college students and recent grads. Really, though, these insights are valuable for anyone.
1. Keep a money diary — but just for a few days
A lot of budgeting advice will tell you to track your spending for, well, ever. But this type of spend tracking can lead to all the unhealthy aspects of budget culture: rewarding restriction, demonizing spending, labeling money as good or bad, promoting hyper-vigilance and more.
Instead, Dana encourages people to keep a money diary but only for a few days. In this diary, you’re not going to track dollars and cents. Instead, log your feelings around money. The key here is self-reflection. Think about how you want your money to support your values and goals.
“It’s not about holding yourself accountable, which a lot of spend tracking does,” Dana says. “It’s just about the act of writing it down. It helps you create some mindfulness about how you spend money and how it feels.”
2. Get creative with your income
Dana spent many years struggling as a freelance writer and not understanding there are endless opportunities to earn extra money on the side.
“I’m a huge proponent of self-employment and freelancing in general,” Dana says. “Whether you do it as a side gig — on the side of going to school or working another job — it adds some autonomy and creativity to any work you’re doing.”
You can turn any interest into income. Here are a few ideas she shares:
Grocery delivery through Instacart.
Odd jobs through TaskRabbit. (Or go old-school and knock on neighbors’ doors and offer to fix things or mow lawns.)
Flex your craftiness on Etsy.
Make T-shirt designs to sell online.
And don’t discount government assistance. See what you qualify for when it comes to tax credits, SNAP benefits and student loan refunds. These are ways busy students can add more money to their bank accounts without taking on another job.
3. Use apps to stop thinking about your money
There are a lot of apps out there that are tied to budget culture — the apps that tediously count your every penny and shame you for going over unrealistic spend limits.
Instead of those, look for apps that can help you not think about your money.
The biggest game-changer for Dana was a credit-scoring app. She’s used Credit Sesame and now uses Credit Karma. (Note: You’re also legally entitled to a free annual credit report from credit bureaus.)
By looking at your credit report, you can get a snapshot of your finances. Just be aware that most apps make money from recommending financial products like loans and credit cards, so don’t get swept up into those without getting a second opinion.
Look into bill pay reminder apps, too, like Prism. These help you avoid late fees and stop worrying whether your payments are going to be on time. An automated savings app like Digit can also help you put some money away without thinking about it — and without constricting your spending.
“The biggest thing that any app can do is just help you not think about your money day to day,” Dana says. “That’s the biggest goal — is to just have it be an organic piece of your life, not something you constantly have to manage.”
Want to do more of the work you love? Get started with your next side gig, part-time job or new career through How to Start Freelancing. In this session, you’ll learn the exact steps to set yourself up financially, professionally and emotionally to start freelancing. Upgrade to a paid subscription for full access to this and all of our personal finance classes!