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Budgets for College Students

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 2

As a college student you have a ton of things to worry about.  Budgeting is a topic that is difficult for a lot of college students to grasp.  Even if you are blessed enough to have access to resources from your parents, you need to consider learning to use your money wisely. 

Planning A Budget

Before you begin making a budget you need to make a plan.  Are there certain goals that you want to do in the next five years?  Are there goals you want to accomplish in the next two years or the next year?  It is likely that your goals both big and small will need a certain amount of funding. Make a list of goals and write the amount of time that you want to accomplish those goals. 

Know Yourself

Right now, you have a certain lifestyle.  You spend money in a certain way.  IT is time to figure out the way that you spend your money.  Look through your bills for the past month or two months.  If you have access to it, look back to your bank statements for the past year.  It will show you how you spend your money.  Label each expense as a necessity or a desire.  Rank all of your expenses based on your necessities and desires so that you know the order that you need to follow when you make your payments.  Always leave yourself a little room for a discretionary budget.

Resources For Your Budget

Figure out the total amount of money that you receive.  As a college student you get money from a ton of sources.  Make sure that regular amounts of money are included in your total amount of money.  Likely sources of income include financial aid, work-study, money from parents, and money from a part-time job.  After totaling the amount of money that you have, consider if you need to add more money

If you need more income, you may want to consider getting another job.  If you need another job, you could work as a resident assistant, a tutor, a research assistant, or a part-time job off campus. 

Creating the Budget

At the top of a sheet of paper, write the amount of money that you get in a month.  Write down a list of all the necessities that you need to buy with your money (rent, car insurance, health insurance, etc).  Categories that you should include are the tuition, cost of rent, the cost of transportation, the cost of health care, the cost bills (credit cards, personal loans), the cost of food, the cost of clothing, and the cost of books. 

Then, based on your history, write the amount of money that you think you can spend for each category.  A list of typical expenses and the amount of money that a typical college student should expect to spend on them is probably available from your college (often this is included in the cost of attendance).  Take the amount of time that you need to make sure that you assign the proper value to each category.  If you do not know the amount of money that you should spend on a particular category, you can also look at recommendations online. 

A word of caution: Always allow yourself a certain amount of money to spend on something enjoyable.  Although you need to live on a budget, it does not mean that you cannot have any fun.  If you do not spend some of the money on activities that you enjoy, it will be difficult for you to stick to a budget.

Tracking the Amount of Money That You Spend

There are various methods of tracking the money that you spend.  Some people prefer to use budget software.  In the age of technology, you may not need budgeting software. Many banks provide advanced tracking of all the expenses that you use to pay your debit card.  There are also free websites online (such as mint.com) that will track all of your expenses. 

Sticking to the Budget

Now this is the really challenging part.  You will need to spend only the amount of money that you have planned to spend.  How do you do this? 

First automate everything that you can.  Why?  Because you want to make sure that you spend your money on your necessities first.  If you have all of your bills paid with the money first you will be less likely to spend that money on something else.

Second, only carry cash. When you only carry cash you are more likely to realize the amount of money that you are spending.  Carry around a ledger or an envelope system to keep yourself accountable.  Above all else, do not carry your credit card with you.  Psychological tests have shown that swiping a credit card actually creates a positive sensation rather than a negative one. 

Third, try to save as much money as you can on the categories that you include in your budget.  For instance, in the food category you can save money by using coupons.  You can also save money by signing up for loyalty programs at grocery stores.  In the books category, you can save money by renting books or buying used books.  In the tuition category you can save money by making sure that you apply for all the scholarships that your university offers. 

Important Things to Gradually Add To Your Budget

As you stick to your budget, you will need to consider other avenues to remain financially stable.  Consider setting a little money aside for an emergency fund.  Although you are a college student, emergencies happen.  Every little bit of money will help.

If you have loans, use your extra money to pay the interest.  It may seem like it is not a big deal to pay down the interest that is accruing, but paying down any interest that you are able to pay will be beneficial.  Paying a little money now can save you a ton of money later. 



Dec 5, 2011 2:55pm
Your tips about budgets for college student are very useful - not only for college students - many others can benefit from your advice.
Dec 6, 2011 2:45am
Thank you! College students should really consider their budgets, especially in this economy.
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