Balling on a Budget: Tips for Budgeting, Considering Atlanta’s COL and the Value of a Rollins Education

By: Vincent Varvaro – Health Policy and Management
As someone who attended undergrad at a state school in NY with a highly subsidized tuition, deciding to attend a prestigious private school like Rollins was certainly a daunting task. Up until this point, I had been able to make ends meet with relative ease and had put little thought into effective ways to budget. My grandmother was a short drive away, so I had a constant source of food and other necessities whenever I needed them. If I was going to move nearly 1,000 miles away from home to one of the busiest cities in the southeast, I needed to start putting more thought into budgeting every aspect of my life to make sure I could cover all of my necessities as well as have some wiggle room to do all of the social things that I love to do.

Before I list some of the habits and tips that have helped me successfully budget, I think it’s important to go over what exactly to expect if you decide to move to Atlanta and attend Rollins, particularly in terms of the cost of living. In comparison to other major cities in the country, Atlanta is relatively affordable—the cost of living is in line with the national average. When compared to other cities like New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C., and many others, which have costs of living that are well above the national average, living in Atlanta makes a lot of sense. Of course, just like any other place, there is variation depending on the area you are in, but if you’re willing to do some searching, finding an affordable place to live is completely doable, and is a great first step in saving some money.

That’s all great, but what about the value of an education from Rollins? In my opinion, you could not get a better value for your education than right here at Rollins. As the #5 ranked program in the nation, it is impossible to deny that you would receive an exemplary education here. Beyond this, the close relationships that Rollins has with places and organizations like CDC, the American Cancer Society, CARE, and the Carter Center, among many others, means you’ll have many opportunities to gain experience working in the field, making you even more
marketable as you apply for jobs or further schooling after graduation.

Obviously, the decision of where to attend graduate school is huge and requires many different considerations, but hopefully knowing whether it can be financially within reach makes that decision a little bit easier.

Now for the fun part! Here is a list of tips that have helped me with my budgeting during my time living in Atlanta.

1. Write everything down. It’s important to allocate how much you want to spend on certain items/categories over a given time period (X amount on food each week, Y amount on miscellaneous costs each week, Z amount that you would like to save each week, etc.). It’s great to have this in the back of your mind, but I find that having it written down is a really great way of holding yourself accountable. Note that it’s important to be realistic with what you allocate, and it’s ok to spend some time doing some trial and error to see what your needs are.

2. Plan your grocery trips ahead. Make a list and follow it! If you’re like me, you want to spend as little time as possible in the grocery store each week. Before I go grocery shopping, I spend some time looking at the weekly ads for Publix, Kroger, and Aldi, and make my list around who has the cheapest price for what I need, and especially focus on what may be on sale at each store. I usually like to have a general idea of what I think I want to cook that week before I look at the ads, and then use the ads to pinpoint exactly what I want to have in my fridge and pantry.

2a. Your freezer is your friend! Sometimes when there is a great sale on something like chicken, I buy extra and freeze it for when there may be a week that doesn’t have too many promising sales, or maybe the selection isn’t particularly great, or I’m just not in the mood to go on a huge grocery run. Having that option in the freezer is great, though I’m guilty of sometimes forgetting to take it out of the freezer to thaw.

3. Meal prep. If you are a full-time student with other responsibilities on top of that (the case for most of us), the last thing you’re going to want to do when you get home for the day is cook. It’s hard sometimes to not give in to the temptation to order takeout or hit the Chick-fil- A drive-thru, but that is money that does not need to be spent. You don’t need to be Gordon Ramsay to make quick, tasty meals for the week, and there are so many recipes and videos just waiting for you to find them online.

4. Consider getting a Costco membership. Costco and other wholesale stores won’t be the best option for every product, but sometimes buying in bulk just makes sense. I go to Costco for all of my cleaning supplies and other similar products, and they have a great selection of snacks that are usually cheaper than buying from regular grocery stores.

5. Seek out low-cost (and sometimes free!) events on Facebook and other community websites. Atlanta is alive! There are so many events happening in and around the city each week, from concerts, to happy hours, to food festivals, many of which are low-cost. Scrolling through the Discover page on Facebook is a great way to find things to do that interest you without breaking the bank.

6. Resist the temptation to go out every weekend. For me, sometimes this is easier said than done, but it’s good to stay in and have some friends over for a low-key evening sometimes. It’ll save you money and can even be a welcomed change of pace.

7. Treat yourself! (sometimes) I think it’s important to reward yourself every once in a while for sticking to your budget. Buy yourself a nice dinner at a new restaurant, try a new activity in the city, anything that makes you happy.

These are just a few of the things that have helped me to stay on budget, but don’t just do what I do, ask around and see what works for others, share your own experiences. Do what works best for you.