Need a College Student Budget?
A college student budget is something that can help you manage your finances during your college years. Some people cringe when they hear the word budget. They think that it will totally limit the way they spend their money.
But, a budget, when done correctly, will give you more control over your money. You will know exactly how and where you spend your money. You will know how much money you have. You will be able to do what you need to each month.
Where to Start…
Start your college student budget by writing down all sources of cash. This includes (among other sources):
- Savings Accounts
- Income From Work
- Money From Family
- Financial Aid
This is money you have. So, the $1000 limit you have on your credit card doesn't count. The idea here is to avoid debt at every turn. A budget can help you avoid, or at least minimize, your debt as a college student.
You will want to write these amounts down. When I did it, I just used a piece of paper and pen. I have since moved to a free online service called mint.com.
If you like things in electronic format and automated, then mint.com is fantastic. But, if you would prefer to make your own budget, you can always use Microsoft Excel. If you don't have excel, use zoho.com's free spreadsheet.
You will want to keep your budget on a monthly basis, or whatever works best for you. I like to think of my money in 30 day periods because I know when bills are due during the month. I also know when I am going to get paid. I encourage you to use the same monthly budget, but it is your choice.
Where is the Money Going?
The next step in making your college student budget is to find out where your money is going each month. I received a report from my credit union that listed every transaction for the last month. Then I looked at each transaction and identified exactly where my money was going.
When you do it, label each transaction as income or expense. You will want to classify the expenses further by labeling them necessary and unnecessary. This will of course require you to be honest with yourself. Just ask, "Is this something I really need?"
I was really shocked the first time I did this! I couldn't believe how much money I was wasting on eating out and other unnecessary items. It was amazing to see where I was spending my money. If this is your experience, then use it as a motivation for change.
I'm not saying that your college student budget should eliminate ALL eating out and fun (you definitely need some of that in your life). But, it should be controlled so that you don't neglect the expenses that need to be paid (i.e. rent, gas, tuition, utilities, etc.).
After you have identified your expenses and labelled them as needs and wants, then you have to prioritize the "need" expenses. Which expense will be due first in the month? Second? These will be your first priority.
Generally, these will be rent, insurance, food, etc. If your highest priority expenses aren't being paid first (especially rent), then you might have some rearranging to do. This makes sure your necessities are paid first.
Some Expenses Won't Make the Cut
If your college student budget leaves you too much month at the end of the money (yes, I said that right),
then you will need to get rid of some of the less important or unnecessary expenses.
You don't need additional stress as a college student because of trouble with your finances.
5 Ideas to Help Stretch Your Budget
1) Buy Store Brands Instead of Name Brands. Staying away from name brands when you go grocery shopping will help you save money. But, in most cases, the store brand isn't as good of quality.
2) Shop at Thrift Stores. This idea might not seem appealing at first, but it will save you tons of money on clothes and other items. I bought two pairs of pants and a nice pair of shoes, saving me about $70+!
The shoes and pants I bought were in great condition and were still designer brand.
It is important to check and try on everything you consider buying at a thrift store. This way you make sure it is good quality inside and out before buying it.
3) Limit Fast Food. I don't think I need to say anymore, except that making and eating your own homemade lunch will not only be less expensive, but also much healthier for you!
4) Find a Cheaper Place to Live. Your rent is going to be a significant part of (if not the biggest part of) your college student budget. Look around town and at bulletin boards at school to find advertisements for apartments.
Renting a basement apartment will almost always be cheaper than renting in an apartment building. You might not like living in a basement, but it might mean an extra $50- $100 (or more) added back in each month. Some even include utilities. Check with the landlord to find out.
In my case, living in a basement apartment meant a difference of $365 per month! Plus, the basement apartment was in walking distance to my school!
5) Avoid Debt. The easiest way to limit your already tight college student budget is to add a credit card or a car payment to it. If you have no debt, then you won't have those extra monthly payments eating away at your budget.
Debt can add to stress and cause you to have to work more. This will take away from your focus in school and your grades will most likely suffer. Just avoid debt and avoid the headache.
Some debt is necessary in some situations, like college student loans.
Let Me Sum Up...
When making your college student budget, make sure to know what you're working with. This includes identifying all sources of income, where it goes every month, and deciding what you need and what you don't.
Making the budget is simple and can save you the headache of going into debt. Your finances can be a much better part of your life instead of a thorn in your side!