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It’s officially October. Depending on where you are, the leaves are falling/staying on the trees, light jackets and scarves are more common/bros are still rocking their cargo shorts and collared polos – and while sartorial and meteorological considerations give you pause, you’re ignoring the speedy departure of cash from your wallet and/or checking account. It’s one thing to fight the crowds at Staples for college-ruled spirals and bulk boxes of ball-points, but quite another to find yourself at a local boutique, seduced by the cute mary janes in the window, or to leave the college bookstore, dazed and confused and armed with overpriced sweatshirts, stuffed animals and coffee mugs.

All the mary janes and hoodies in the world can’t protect you from financial purgatory. So, ladies and gents, to prevent your credit rating from dropping before it even exists, say hello to the ‘Tally-ho!’ It’s your one-stop shop for tracking your monthly expenses. I came up with the idea when I noticed I was unnecessarily crowding the pages of my planner with long columns of numbers, in an effort to calculate how much money I’d have after the month’s required payments. But one trip to Microsoft Excel (or a notebook of graph paper) later, I was all set – here’s how it works:

First column

Write down, row by row, how much money you’ll have for each month. This can include your wages from an on- or off-campus job, parental contributions, savings, petty cash from the university if you’re on scholarship, or any combination of the above. Itemize it, then total it. It’s fine if this changes – say you pick up a second job, or maybe the grandparents want to send a check. But having a ballpark figure of your funds is crucial.

Second column

Again, row by row, list all your mandatory expenses: if you live off-campus:

  • Rent
  • Electricity
  • Water
  • Gas
  • Cable
  • Internet
  • Bus pass
  • Subway pass

If you live on-campus with roommates, depending on whose turn it is to buy stuff:

  • Toilet paper
  • Clorox/Lysol
  • Paper towels

Things start getting tricky when you think about food: if you’re on a meal plan, stick to it and don’t succumb to grabbing a Naked Juice, which your plan definitely doesn’t cover, for breakfast. Apartment dwellers, spend a free day – preferably a weekday when you don’t have class, or at least during long gaps between lectures – to scope out at least three grocery stores. Here in New York, I spent an entire Thursday hopping, skipping and jumping from Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Pathmark. As a result, you figure out what’s cheapest where.

Another tip: invest in trips to ethnic stores. Buying fish at Whole Foods can bankrupt you, but going to your city/town’s Chinatown for salmon, or the local Indian store for spices and produce, will be much easier on your wallet. An occasional splurge is fine – pick up that bar of Mast Brothers chocolate, or that bottle of freshly squeezed limeade and, in the words of Tom Haverford and Donna Meagle, “treat yo’self.”

But remember: you’re in college. Unless your last name is Trump, Hilton, Rockefeller, or de Rothschild, spend within your pay grade.

Third column

We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. This means a number of things: you’re now the target of all the alcohol purveyors in a 50-mile radius. The college bookstore will convince you to buy a $45 sweatshirt. That said, it’s no crime to unwind with friends over a drink (we’re-legally-obligated-to-say-you-should-be-21-to-consume-alcoholic-beverages) after a stressful week, or support the school colors by buying a pennant.

This last column, then, is for incidentals: if you can’t get through the day without Starbucks, tabulate how much it costs to buy tall skim lattes five days a week. If you have a passion for theater, figure out how many shows you want to see each month, how much student tickets cost, and add that up. If you don’t have any regular incidental expenses, good for you – that’s money you can let rest. And if you land an internship mid-semester, it’ll be nice to have some spare change to pick up a fitting blazer, or a pair of smart shoes for the office.

Lastly and most importantly: Ask if they have a student discount. Ask the movie theater, ask the saleswoman at J. Crew, ask the cashier at the pharmacy – you’ve got nothing to lose, and it’ll simply help you discover deals where you least expected them. (For example, J. Crew really does have a student discount – who knew!)

The Tally-Ho_Student Guide to Tracking Monthly Expenses

Do you have any other tips for tracking monthly expenses?

Featured photo credit: EU Social via photopin cc