Who says you have to be broke in college?

Attention College Students! You might be surprised to find that you aren't poor at all. You just need to figure out how you spend your money. Once you track it, you can manage it. With a little effort, living on Ramen noodles will be history.

To find out where the money goes, we conducted an informal survey of 100 college students at campuses across the nation. We asked: What do you spend money on regularly that's not a necessity? (That ruled out spending on the essentials such as tuition, books and housing.)

The answers were pretty consistent -- buying liquid refreshment and fast food topped the lists.

Men's Top 10 Women's Top 10
1. Alcohol 1. Alcohol
2. Fast food 2. Fast food
3. Cell phone 3. Cell phone
4. Movies (first-run tickets and rentals) 4. Movies (first-run tickets and rentals)
5. Car things 5. Clothes
6. Dates 6. Dates
7. Music (CDs, MP3s) 7. Music
8. Video games 8. Makeup
9. Electronics/computer stuff 9. Shower gel, perfume, lotion etc.
10. Tobacco products 10. Hair products

Survey says ...
Buying alcohol tops the list for both genders and some students were very specific on what kind of alcohol they buy. Kirk Madsen, a student at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Mich., explained he spends his money on "music and beer, not alcohol."

Fast food is another item on the list that should not surprise anyone who has been on a college campus for more than five minutes. In addition to the common area food court in most universities, there are always a number of fast food and delivery places a stone's throw from the campus.

As cell phones have become the standard rather than exception, so have the way most students use them. Many find their bills are much higher than expected because all of their daytime minutes are used up in the first week or so.

Movies are expensive and becoming even more so. The average of $7.25 for the movie and $3 for popcorn even at a student discount adds up! A movie date might not be such a cheap date after all.

The cost of campus parking tickets didn't make the Top 10 lists, but were mentioned by a number of students as a big expense. Tickets ranged anywhere from $10 to $50 depending on whether it's a first ticket or a repeat and the availability of campus parking.

Vive la difference
The split in what men and women spend their money on exemplifies the distinct differences between the two sexes. In our survey, women preferred to spend money on themselves with new clothes, or new eyeliner. Men, on the other hand, opted to buy things to play with -- cars or car accessories, video games and computer things.

"As a self proclaimed nerd, I've also been known to splurge on the obligatory computer part, not too much though. I am kind of a tight wad in a relative sense, but I prefer the term fiscally responsible," said Harvard student, Drew Heckathorn.

Becoming fiscally responsible like Heckathorn is not difficult, explains Sharon Rich, founder of Womoney, a fee-only financial planning firm in Belmont, Mass.

Stretch your disposable dollars
The first step to becoming more responsible is to know where your money is going. Spend about two weeks tracking all your purchases. Get a little notebook and try to write everything down. "Write checks when you're spending money, that slows you down," suggests Rich.

After collecting the numbers, enter them into a software program like Quicken. There you can categorize where the money is going.

If you do not have access to software there are other ways to organize what you have collected. You can use a basic spreadsheet or simply just write everything down, add it up and categorize it yourself. Though, Rich hastens to add, "Quicken is the absolute best way to really track money."

Once you have everything categorized and on paper in front of you, look at it carefully. Rich suggests you ask yourself, "Is that where I want to spend my money. Is that what I have prioritized or think is important?"

Should you answer no to any of those questions, then it's time to re-evaluate. This step may seem daunting, but can really be as easy as putting money into an envelope.

Tried-and-true envelope method
Let's say you track your spending habits for two weeks and you find yourself spending $50 a week eating out. Rich advises creating cash envelopes for certain areas of spending. Continuing with the eating out example, she suggests putting $30 in a cash envelope. That is the amount that you can spend that week on food. You'll need to be strict with yourself and when it is gone, it's gone until next week.

There are no basic guidelines for spending. Just because your roommate can afford to go to the mall every day and come back with a new outfit or CD doesn't mean you can.

And, there is no right or wrong amount of money to spend. It's what you can afford. Rich suggests thinking about your cash source. Are you living on your financial aid or are you working? Do you have a set amount of income each month? Figure out your limit.

While you might be tempted to buy something on credit and pay for it later -- don't do it. Credit cards should be seen as a responsibility. They should be paid off every month.

Rich emphasizes, "Credit cards are not a place to borrow money from unless there is a real emergency. A broken car is not really an emergency because you can expect that to happen."

Make a spending syllabus
Organize a budget for yourself. It should reflect your responsibilities and leave some room to enjoy your time in college. Everything in moderation, of course.

Set up an emergency account. "Assume that there is going to be one big disaster whether your car breaks down or a family crisis crops up," Rich advises. Wouldn't it be nice to know that a potential $500 car repair bill is already taken care of?

She suggests putting the money aside in a separate account. If you can't do it all at once, budget a certain amount each month for the emergency account.

Keeping up the cards
If paying off your credit card balance monthly is out of the question, Rich has a few tips that can help you.

Use your cards thinking that you will pay off your balance at the end of the month. Enter each charge you make into your checkbook register, the same as you would for a check or a debit card transaction. That way you can use your checkbook to track each item expense-by-expense rather than just at the end of the month.

Keep in mind that when you charge on your card, the money is spent. It is not spent when the bill comes -- that is when the money has to be in your account.

If you use a credit card wisely, it is not a bad thing. It's carrying the debt that can get you into trouble. The interest adds up quickly.

Whatever you do, Rich says to keep it simple. Figure out the best way for you to track your money without making it an elaborate thing. That way you will really do it.

Decorate those envelopes, color code your checkbook or just try to change how you think about money.

Once you've got your cash flow figured out, those top 10 things might not be as money consuming as they once were.

-- Posted: Aug. 8, 2003