When I get to campus in about a week, I will receive my student identification card. Now, this wouldn't be a big deal to most people, but to an American University student, this is their entire life. With my ID card, I get into my dorm, my room, the dining hall, and the athletic center; it also houses my Eagle Bucks.  

Now you are probably wondering what in the world Eagle Bucks are. Well, in easiest terms, it is American University's debit card. With your selected meal plan, each student receives $300 worth of Eagle Bucks. Eagle Bucks can be used at the bookstore to buy books and American University gear, local eateries around campus like Chipotle, snacks at the mini-mart, and many other things. One dollar is worth one Eagle Buck. So, if you get a burrito from Chipotle, my favorite place, and it costs eight dollars for your meal, you use eight Eagle Bucks.  All students have to do is swipe their ID cards instead of a debit or credit card to pay. The average student goes through $900 worth of Eagle Bucks each semester.

My goal is to only go through 500 Eagle Bucks, because my parents are only giving me $500. But, I do not think this will be too big of an issue since I have my budget all planned out.  My income in college each month is about $200, and I am putting away $50 from that sum to food. Now remember, I will have my 500 Eagle Bucks, which if broken down means that I get about 125 Eagle Bucks each month. So, I basically have $175 for food outside of my nine meals a week in the dining hall.

Sitting here writing it down, it feels like a lot of money for food, but I know that on Friday nights and Saturday nights I will want to go out for a bite to eat and I am sure that I will grab snacks at the mini-mart, which will eat away my Eagle Bucks. My trick for saving money on food this year is to skip buying a soda when I go out and drinking water instead. It will save me almost two dollars a meal, and I can drink as much soda as I want in the dining hall, which is already paid for. Plus, water is so much healthier than soda. While two dollars a meal does not seem like a lot, I think it will add up over time.

My other goals are to bring home what food I do not eat when I eat out and to go to the grocery store every once in a while to get some snacks for my dorm room. I have a mini-fridge in my room, so I can eat my leftovers for lunch the following day. I also know that I am not a big breakfast eater, so it would be a lot cheaper to pay $4 for a box of cereal at a grocery store that would last me two weeks, instead of spending $4 each day at a campus eatery. So, we will see over time, but I hope I am able to stay on track with spending money at school by following my goals and budgeting my money.

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Ariel Levin

Ariel Levin is a contributing writer for In College and Starting Out blog. She will be attending American University in Washington DC in the fall of 2010.  She knows being in a city like Washington will pose challenges and financial temptations. She will share her experiences as a college freshman who is just starting out and learning to manage her money on her own. Compensated CareOne Blogger.