College Budgeting 101

Hipster Man Casually Filing In The Application Form On His Wooden DeskFiguring out your finances while you’re still trying to figure out calculus may seem like a tall order. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to manage your money without denying yourself any of the fun that college life has to offer. Here’s how to pass college budgeting 101.

Make a Budget

You don’t have to go crazy with a spreadsheet – just list your monthly income and what you need to spend. Include all your sources of income such as financial aid, savings, your part-time job and the bank of mom and dad. Typical college student expenses include tuition, housing, groceries, personal care items, travel, books, health insurance, cell phone, clothes, and entertainment.

Next, track your spending to make sure you’re not blowing your budget. Recording everything you spend can be a real eye-opener and a great way to find areas to cut your expenses.

Shamelessly Cut Corners

Food, books, and the like are necessities, but that doesn’t mean you can’t slash your expenses. Try these tips:

  • Research campus meal plans—they’re usually much cheaper than outside meals.
  • Limit eating out. When you fancy a night on the town, choose places that offer student discounts or check out daily deals sites like Groupon. Want to eat somewhere that doesn’t offer a discount? Ask if they’ll give you one anyway!
  • Kick the Starbucks habit—small expense items like drinks and candy are student enemy number one. Instead, pick up a cheap coffee maker and concoct your own specialty drinks.
  • Check out online retailers like Amazon before buying your books at the campus bookstore—they’re usually cheaper. Better still, buy second-hand books from Ebay and save 50 percent or more.
  • Sell used books at the end of the semester. The campus bookstore may buy them or you could try selling them online.

Manage borrowing, don’t let it manage you

Be extremely wary of credit cards as a cash-strapped student—they stack another layer of debt on top of your existing student loans. And while debt consolidation can help some debt-laden students after graduation, it isn’t for everyone. If you must have a card, follow these tips to help you manage it better.

  • Use credit cards only in an emergency.
  • Before you buy anything on credit, ask yourself: do you need it? Can you afford it? Have you checked whether it’s cheaper anywhere else? If you answer “no” to any of these questions do not proceed in purchasing the item!
  • Pay the balance each month on time, every time. Set up text alerts from your credit card provider to keep you on track with your payments or set up a direct monthly payment from your bank account.
  • Keep a low credit limit.

Whatever your income, there’s no need to fall into the hard-up student stereotype. If you budget wisely, think creatively, and use credit cards only as a last resort, you’ll be well on your way to living a financially free student life.


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