How To Make A Budget: A Primer For College Students

If you’re ready to go off to college – or already enrolled in school – and you’ve recognized that you need a budget, here’s how to create one:
 
Involve Your Family In Your Budgeting Process
If your family is paying for part or all of your college expenses, start by working with them to create your budget. Make sure that everyone’s on the same page as to who will pay what, how money will be distributed, how much leeway you’ll have in making financial decisions, etc.
 
Pick A Timeframe For Your Budget
Decide from the beginning whether your budget will be set for a month, a semester, or a school year.
 
List All Of Your Income
In your budget, include all of your potential categories and amounts of income. For college students, these typically include: financial aid (scholarships, grants, work study, and student loans), savings, contributions from parents, and income from a part-time job.
 
List All Of Your Expenses
Next, list all of your potential categories and amounts of expenses. Typical college student expenses include: tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board / housing, groceries and snacks, personal care items, transportation or car expenses, health insurance, cell phone, clothes, and entertainment and activities. If you’re not sure what your expenses are, track them for a week, a month, or more. Recording everything you spend can be an eye-opening experience and a great way to find areas to cut costs.
 
Plan For Emergencies
The unexpected is a part of life. If your car breaks down or you have an unexpected medical expense, you’ll be way ahead of the game if you have money saved in an emergency fund and don’t have to rely on credit.

Save For Big-ticket Items
If you’re planning to move into your own apartment and you’ll need to buy furniture, or maybe your friends are planning a spring break trip, start saving for the expense as soon as you know about it. Revisit your budget to attempt to increase your savings amount. Even if you end up borrowing to pay part of the expense, borrowing less will save money in the long run.

Make Sure Your Budget Balances
Total your income, total your expenses, and then make sure that your budget balances. You want to either break even or have some money leftover. If your budget doesn’t balance, you’ll need to reduce your expenses and/or figure out a way to bring in more income.
 
Click here for an easy-to-use college student budget worksheet.
 
See these related budgeting articles:
Sticking To A Budget: A Primer For College Students
10 Budgeting Tips

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©2012, Money 101. Money 101 is a program sponsored by CollegeInvest, a division of the Colorado Department of Higher Education. We provide financial literacy resources and tools, including online classes, videos, articles, calculators, and budgeting worksheets.
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