4 tips to budget like a pro at college
How to start (and stick to) a realistic budget at college3 min read Published: 4 Apr 2023
Financial literacy is probably one of the most important skills you can learn, and it’s not as scary as it sounds. Learning how to budget effectively can set you up for much higher chances of success and will help you feel more relaxed in general. Let’s jump in right away with tip one.
What gets measured gets managed
The first principle is simple. If you have a decent idea of what is coming in and what is going out of your accounts, you will be in a much better position to control and manage your money.
If all of the other steps feel too overwhelming for you, this is the place to start. Understanding how you currently spend is key to understanding how you need to budget when you’re at college.
You might like to keep a money diary by popping a note into your calendar every time you spend - How much did you spend, what did you spend it on? Do you tend to spend more money on some days of the week, or when you are feeling particularly happy, or when you are stressed? No judgment here, just noticing.
Not only does this help you to get a good idea of how much you are spending on a daily and weekly basis, but it also helps you get an idea of where your money tends to go and why. Armed with these insights, you are in a much stronger position to move on to some of the next steps of budgeting.
Once you’re in the habit of jotting down what you spend and when, you can get into the nitty-gritty of budgeting.
List all your sources of income
In this step, make a list of every source of income you have. Think about:
- Part time or full time work
- Student loans
- $20 from grandma every year on your birthday
When you have a grasp of exactly how much income you have to work with every month, you have a strong foundation to build out the rest of your budget.
The next step can be a bit of a scary one but we promise it’s useful and it will really help you out. You can do it!
List all of your expenses
This can be a bit yikes. It’s different from step one where you were getting into a habit of recording what you are already actually spending and when in your day-to-day life. This step focuses on the framework for your new budget going forward.
Recurring expenses are things that you know for a fact will have to come out of your account every month. Some things to think about include:
- Tuition and fees
- Rent or dorm fees
- Utilities and internet
Variable costs are things that you sometimes spend on, but not always. Your list might include:
- Movie tickets
- Subscription services like Netflix or Disney Plus
- Take out food
- Textbooks and school supplies
- Getting your nails done
- Baseball tickets
Now that you have a list of all of your income and your outgoings, you can compare. Do you have a few dollars spare at the end of each month which you could pop into a savings account, or do you need to think about cutting some expenses from somewhere to make ends meet? This is what we will focus on in tip four.
Cut expenses, save, and prioritize
A few small changes can make a big difference to your finances. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Do you really use your Disney Plus account as much as you used to? Maybe time to cancel and see how it affects you.
- Could you look into a monthly saver student travel card? Or, maybe you and some friends could club together and carpool to save on travel expenses.
- Could you buy used textbooks or borrow from the library?
- Could you pick up one more shift at work?
- Could you learn to batch cook once per week, portioning up healthy meals for two or three days?
The goal is to strike a balance between enjoying your college experience and maintaining financial stability. None of us get this right the first time around, so don’t worry. Keep revisiting your budget and your actual spending to see where the mismatches are. Go through these four steps as many times as you need.
Final bonus tips
You made it! Well done. With these four steps, you are well on your way towards financial success whilst you budget at college.
As a final tip, you might want to have a look at some of these budgeting tools:
- You Need a Budget (YNAB): A really popular, user-friendly app that helps you track expenses, set goals, and keep an eye on your progress.
- Mint: It’s free and it’s well reviewed. The app syncs with your bank accounts and credit cards, automatically categorizing transactions and providing budgeting tools.
- Google Sheets: Old school but effective. If you prefer a more manual approach, you can create your budget using a good old spreadsheet.
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