Smart Budgeting for College

Smart Budgeting for College

College is a huge financial commitment these days, and setting up a budget is going to help you succeed. Your income will probably not be consistent each month, so here are some tips to control expenses and keep track of your money.


Use a Spreadsheet

You can create a simple budget template in Excel to track your income and expenses, or you can use a pre-made one. If you have student loans, grants or scholarship money, and money from a summer job, you will need to allocate it over several months to make sure you have enough. There are two great college budget templates on this page. I have also used several of the others and liked them. Remember to add a cushion for expenses; they are often higher in reality than you might think.


Dorm or Apartment?

You have a few choices where to live while you are a student. In the dorm is often a good budget choice, you will also have access to a meal plan. You won’t need to worry about driving to school and parking daily either. If dorm living isn’t for you, an apartment is another option. Living alone is expensive and a roommate to help split basic expenses is a smart choice. Make sure you are both clear on who pays for what to prevent financial problems down the road.

You can also stay at home if you choose a school in your hometown. While it isn’t the cool choice, it is certainly a smart money move.


Balance Food and Fun

After rent, food and socializing are probably your biggest expenses. I know that ramen is joked about as a college meal staple, but eating a little bit healthier is smarter. It’s hard to focus on learning if your body isn’t fed right. There are several posts on our blog that deal with smart grocery shopping, search the tag ‘food’ to see some of them. For those times you are eating ramen, here are some recipe hacks to dress it up a bit.

Look for free or cheap things to do near your school. There are lots of websites that keep lists of what to do. I also recommend taking cash when you go out and leaving the credit and debit cards at home. That way you won’t be tempted to overspend and blow your budget.


School Expenses

Don’t forget, you need to pay your tuition, buy books and other related supplies. If your tuition isn’t automatically paid from your school disbursed funds, look into a payment plan to spread out the expense. Many schools will let you charge against your loan or scholarship funds at the student bookstore. Be sure to look at used textbooks or ask about renting textbooks. There are several options online for rentals; Chegg and Amazon both have great prices. Speaking of Amazon, check out their discounted Student Prime plan. It’s free for the first 6 months, and then 50% off the yearly rate as long as you are a student.


Adapted from