Make a College Budget

We’ve broken the college budget-planning process down into five simple and easy steps to help you get off on the right foot.

Step 1: Keep track of your budget

  • Using an app like Mint will help you stay organized and on top of your budget.
  • Get your bank statement texted to you every day so you always know exactly how much money is in your account before you start your day.
  • Most banking apps have this feature already!
  • Keep an excel spreadsheet on your personal computer and phone.

Step 2: Calculate your expenses

  • Create a spreadsheet in excel with all of your typical expenses and total them. Here’s an example of how I made mine.
  • Keep track of expenses such as money spent on food, housing, textbooks, tuition, gas, and utilities. Don’t forget to note other items such as coffee money, going-out money, or money spent on pets if you have them. Total these expenses and change the font color to RED.
  • Have a column for what you expect to spend on those items, as well as a column for what you ACTUALLY spend that month. This will help when you evaluate your budget at the end of every month.

Step 3: Determine your income

  • In that same spreadsheet, insert a section for your monthly income.
  • Note any money coming in from financial aid, jobs, babysitting, savings accounts, or money from your parents if they help out financially while you’re in school. Total these and change the font color to GREEN.
  • Looking for ways to make money in college? Check your school’s job posting site.

Step 4: Balance your budget

  • Subtract your expected expenses from your income and label this ‘Disposable Income’ meaning the money you have remaining after paying for the essentials. It’s okay if these numbers don’t match. In fact, they probably WON’T match right away. That’s why you have to balance your budget!
  • Tweak the numbers in the expected expenses column until your disposable income is at, or hopefully above, zero. It’s always good to have some wiggle room for unexpected expenses like doctor visits or car troubles.

Step 5: Keep up with your budget

  • Every month, re-evaluate your ACTUAL expenses and balance your budget accordingly. If you have any change in income, note that too.
  • If you notice you’re spending $100+ on coffee every month, maybe it’s time to make coffee at home and pass on $6 lattes from Starbucks.
  • Don’t be discouraged if your budget is way off one month, IT HAPPENS. Life is full of unexpected costs. Stick with it and start learning money management skills now.
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