Budgeting as a College Student

Budgeting for college students

Regardless of whether your college experience is being paid for by parents, student loans, or your own savings and income (or a mixture of those), we all need to create some type of budget. This can be hard because many students don’t have a job outside of coursework, and it seems weird to budget your savings. No matter what situation you’re in, it does help to create a budget; if nothing else, it can give helpful insights into what amount of money you’ll need to make to cover your expenses in the future.

For students who are living off of their savings or loans and focusing primarily on school:

  1. Look back on your expenditures for the past month to see how much you spent and what you spent it on.
  2. Decide how long (in months) you want your savings to last before you need to replenish with an income, student loans, or another source of funds.
  3. Multiply your monthly spending amount by the number of months you want your savings to last you. Is that number above, or below, your savings amount? If it’s above, you need to find a way to cut out some expenses OR you’ll need to replenish your funds earlier than you had hoped. If it’s below, that’s great! You might be able to take a little more time before replenishing your funds, or you can treat yourself. Or have extra savings, that’s great, too.
  4. Write out how much each monthly expenditure costs you (or, if you have to change your spending, write out how much you intend to pay for each monthly expenditure). I would inflate this number just a little bit to make sure you have wiggle room. Spend up to that amount for each monthly expense.
  5. That’s your budget; it’s that easy!
    • If you have trouble sticking to your budget, you can even break it down week-by-week. Set out your expenses that are paid monthly (rent, utilities, car payments, insurance, etc.) separately from your other expenses. Then, you can see how much money you have to spend on things like food, entertainment, gas, and the like. Each month has approximately four weeks, so you can break those expenses up week-by-week.
    • Sometimes, it helps to have a visual representation of the money you have to use. You can put cash and coins in jars for each week, month, or expense; however you prefer to organize it.

For students living off of their own income, allowance from parents, or otherwise have monthly income:

  1. Use the same first step as above; check on your previous month’s expenditures so you can see how much you spend and what you spend it on. Is that cost more or less than what you receive monthly? If it’s more than what you make, you need to cut back on some costs (unless you’re willing to supplement with savings). This will usually come from entertainment (streaming services, food costs, shopping), but you can also cut down on costs by taking public transit so you don’t have to pay for gas or ride sharing services, like Uber or Lyft. If it’s less than you make, congrats! You can save your money, spend more, or whatever else works for you.
  2. The other steps are pretty much the same as for people in other situations. Write out how much you currently spend, or how much you will spend in the future, for each expense. Add somewhere between $10-$50 for each of these to give yourself a little wiggle room.
  3. That’s your budget! Do your best to stick to it and spend at or under the amount you've designated for each monthly expense.
    • If you have trouble sticking to your budget, you can even break it down week-by-week. Set out your expenses that are paid monthly (rent, utilities, car payments, insurance, etc.) separately from your other expenses. Then, you can see how much money you have to spend on things like food, entertainment, gas, and the like. Each month has approximately four weeks, so you can break those expenses up week-by-week.
    • Sometimes, it helps to have a visual representation of the money you have to use. You can put cash and coins in jars for each week, month, or expense; however you prefer to organize it.

**Note: it is good to have a savings account with the money for at least one month’s expenditures set aside, just in case. If you can, keep this account separate from your other accounts and add to it when possible. Unless disaster strikes, you shouldn’t be withdrawing funds from this account.

For students relying on a mixture of income and savings/loans:

  1. Check back on your expenditures for the past month to see how much you spend and what you spend it on. How much is covered with your income, and how much is covered with your savings?
  2. Decide how long (in months) you want your savings to last you before you need to replenish with a second income, student loans, or another source of funds. How much of your savings will you spend each month? Are you spending more than your income and the amount of savings you want to spend each month? If yes, your savings won’t last you for as long as you’d hoped, or you’ll need to cut down on some expenses. This will usually come from entertainment (streaming services, food costs, shopping), but you can also cut down on costs by taking public transit so you don’t have to pay for gas or ride sharing services, like Uber or Lyft. If no, congratulations! You’re already spending within your means.
  3. Write out how much you currently spend, or how much you will spend in the future, for each expense. Add somewhere between $10-$50 for each of these to give yourself a little wiggle room.
  4. That’s your budget! Do your best to stick to it.
    • If you have trouble sticking to your budget, you can even break it down week-by-week. Set out your expenses that are paid monthly (rent, utilities, car payments, insurance, etc.) separately from your other expenses. Then, you can see how much money you have to spend on things like food, entertainment, gas, and the like. Each month has approximately four weeks, so you can break those expenses up week-by-week.
    • Sometimes, it helps to have a visual representation of the money you have to use. You can put cash and coins in jars for each week, month, or expense; however you prefer to organize it.

Good luck! I know high school financial lit didn’t help much, but hopefully these simple tips will counter that.

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