Sticking To A Budget: A Primer For College Students

Designing and sticking to a budget can be a challenge for anyone, but especially when you’re a college student who’s had little or no experience managing your own money. The task becomes even more complex because large amounts of money often come in and go out at certain times of the year. By setting and sticking to a budget, however, you’ll be less likely to leave college with a mountain of debt.
 
Below are simple tips for managing money while you’re in school:
 
Plan For A Semester At A Time
Most people set up monthly budgets, but while you’re in college, it might make more sense to set up a semester budget and then track your progress on a weekly or monthly basis. Start your budget by calculating your income (from financial aid, student loan disbursements, parent contributions, income from a part-time job, etc.). Next, add up your expenses (tuition, fees, books, living expenses, clothes, activities, etc.). Ideally, there will be a surplus that you can put into savings each month. If not, recalculate the budget (by adding income or cutting expenses) until you at least break even.
 
Stay On Track
Once you have your budget in place, stay on track. If you make a mistake, get right back on budget. If you notice that your income has fallen or your expenses have risen, recalculate your budget immediately. By making adjustments quickly, you’ll prevent a little deficit from growing into a big problem.
 
Don’t Try To Keep Up With Your Friends
Throughout your life, but particularly during college, there can be a tendency to try to keep up with friends. Avoid the temptation to do this. Some people will have more access to money than you; others will be more comfortable racking up credit card debt. Everyone will place a different value on how and when to spend money. Design your budget based on your goals (such as breaking even every month, saving for a car, or graduating from college with little or no debt), then have the confidence to live your life within your means, not someone else’s.
 
Watch For Little Expenses That Can Add Up To A Big Monthly Drain
Within your budget, you’ll want to allot a certain amount of money for eating out, going to movies, participating in activities, and other “small” expenses. But it’s important to guard that these “little” expenses don’t add up to a huge expense at the end of the month. Ten coffee drinks, two trips to the movies, and five nights out with friends could easily add up to $200 over the course of a month.
 
Use Credit Cards Wisely
Many college students who are forced to decide between missing out on something or putting the expense on a credit card will opt to pull out the plastic. Try to behave differently. If you don’t have the money to pay for it, don’t buy it. Without self-discipline, over the course of four or more years in college, hundreds of purchases you can’t afford will translate into thousands of dollars in debt. Credit cards should be viewed as a convenient way to pay for purchases, not as a convenient way to borrow money. If you’re using a credit card while you’re in college, pay it off every month. If you need to carry a balance into the following month, each time you pull out your credit card, ask yourself, “Do I want to borrow money to pay for this purchase?” That simple act of mindfulness will help you use your credit cards more wisely.
 
By making a budget and sticking to it, you’ll develop healthy money habits that will benefit you not only while you’re in college, but also for years to come!
 
Click here for a college student budget worksheet.
 
See these related budgeting articles:
How To Make A Budget: A Primer For College Students
10 Budgeting Tips

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