College Student Budget 

What Is a College Student Budget? 

A college student budget is a working list that a student uses to keep track of his or her finances in college. It details both the income and expenses, or in the ingoing and outgoing money flow.    

According to the non-profit organization College Board, taking out a loan is one way to get a college education. You are obligated to repay the loan, with the corresponding interest rates. Interest rates vary and depend on the type of loan. There are three possible sources of student loans: the federal government, state agencies, and private organizations (e.g., banks, foundations).  

Possible Expenses for a Typical College Student

Not everyone can obtain a college scholarship. And for those lucky enough to get financial aid, they have one less thing to worry about. However, keeping a scholarship may also be a different story. The following are typical expenses that most college students are faced with:  

Tuition: Again, not everyone is a scholar; and not everyone is born with a silver spoon in their mouth. The reality is that college students sometimes need to work to pay for their education. It’s not uncommon to see young students working part-time or hustling on the side, just to be able to pay for college tuition. Textbooks and School Supplies: College students need all the resources available to them in order to meet their undergraduate requirements. Textbooks can cost a considerable amount. In addition, various school supplies are needed as well. It could include bond paper, folders, envelopes, USBs, and basically anything that a student needs to help them accomplish school requirements. Rent: A lot of university students prefer to live close to the school they attend. Others live on campus in dormitories or in nearby apartments. Monthly rent is a common expense and can range anywhere from affordable to expensive. Housing is a basic need and a fixed expense. Mobile Phone: A mobile phone is an important and basic convenience in our modern world. Paying for convenient communication is considered an essential need for many people. College students need to be able to pay for their phone bills, just as they would for rent and other necessities. Transportation: Whether an undergraduate uses public transport or a private car, there is bound to be some form of expense in order to get from one point to another. These expenses may include train, bus, or taxi charges. Having a car also requires you to pay for gas to be able to keep using the car. Groceries: Like anyone who belongs to a household, a college student also needs basic supplies. Grocery expenses would depend on the need of the person. Of course there are a few non-negotiable items like food, hygiene, and medical supplies. But for the rest, what’s essential for one person may not be as important for another. Buying snacks or carbonated beverages in a supermarket is a luxury. So it’s important to know how to categorize your grocery items into needs and wants. This approach can help make budgeting easier. Meals: Everyone needs food to function. But how much should a college student allot for one meal? This can only be answered by the student himself. It is good practice to go on a meal plan. This way, you don’t have to worry about going over budget when it comes to food. You can opt for weekly food deliveries where you can expect a fixed price. Or if your campus has a cafeteria, it’s good to familiarize yourself with the food there and its price points. Utilities: Similar to rent, college students also need to pay for using utilities such as electricity and water. This is considered a basic expense and some opt to share the cost. A lot of undergrads will experience having a roommate during their university stay. Many college students share living space with friends or relatives. Shared living space also means shared utilities and cost. Entertainment and Recreation: As romanticized and glamorized in countless films, the college experience is not complete without the big parties and crazy gimmicks. It’s common for young people to have the occasional beer and night out with friends. Having fun and enjoying the company of friends is important to balance the demands and rigor of academic life. When it comes to recreation, to each his own duly applies. Some like to spend their money on hobbies, drinks, sports, and even travel. Dining out can also fall under this category. Entertainment and recreation should be accounted for in one’s expenses; because if left unchecked, it could have serious consequences. Miscellaneous: There are other expenses that people, not only college students, willingly or unwillingly sign up for. Subscription fees are an additional expense and by all accounts, completely optional. Access to streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ incur monthly dues as well. Just like paying for internet connection and cable, regular payment is needed to continue using the service. Another extra expense is printing and photocopy services. College students are often required to write a lot of papers, from reflection papers to research papers. If the student does not own a printer, a lot of campuses offer easy printing services. All these can incur expenses that can add up to a significant amount during an undergraduate’s entire college stay.

Possible Formats for a College Student Budget  

In making a college student budget, it’s best to come up with a format before you start listing anything down. Try any one of these possible formats to get started! You are free to combine two or any of these types, depending on how detailed you want your student budget to be. 

Essentials & Non-essentials: If you are looking for a simple way to classify your expenses, try grouping your items as either an essential need or a non-essential want. In any budget, you are most likely to encounter a mix of both types. Essentials are the non-negotiables. These expenses are obligatory because a student needs them to survive. The basic essentials include food, housing, medicine, tuition, and other school-related expenses. Non-essentials are those items that you can do away with, which may include Netflix, cable, clothing or shopping budget, etc. You can be flexible when it comes to choosing what your non-essentials are. Time-based Worksheet: A slightly more detailed format would include an organized time table. Provide tables for weekly and/or monthly expenses. Some worksheets may even include a semestral budget tracker, or annual school year expense sheet. Having a time element incorporated into your budget will allow you to effectively monitor your cash flow. You can compare how much you’ve spent each month. And adjust your spending habits or savings goal accordingly. Fixed and Flexible Expenses: Similar to the essentials vs non-essentials format, the fixed and flexible method is more objective in a sense that the former can accommodate a little subjectivity. To illustrate, essential items would mean groceries but it is not always a fixed expense. The total amount spent for your bi-weekly grocery run can be flexible. Examples of fixed expenses would be cell phone data plans, car insurance, rent, etc. Batching: Another possible method to use is batching. In your spreadsheet or table, meticulously list and group together similar items. For example, you can categorize your expenses into school-related, housing, personal, recreation, transportation, etc. Under each category, list down all the items that contribute to your spending. Under recreation, possible items could be movies, shopping, staycations, wall climbing, etc.

How to Create a College Student Budget

Designing a college student budget can be pretty straightforward. However, an attention to detail is necessary if you want to create a budget that suits you- one that you can actually rely on and use. With the information above, you can start building your budget by following the steps below.      

Step 1: Decide on a Format

The first step is designing how you want your budget to look like. How do you want to present the information? There are a number of different ways and you are free to choose whatever works for you. A table format is a good and simple way to start. Using an Excel spreadsheet is also one of the most convenient ways. How simple or detailed the budget will appear depends entirely on your preference. You can make use of the possible formats explained above.  

Step 2: Identify the Particulars

A basic budget should always indicate the expenses, income, the items and their amounts, and the total. It can also include savings or a personal fund. Some students set aside a certain amount to save up for a trip, to purchase an expensive gadget or item, or just to save for a rainy day. It’s equally important to identify your sources of income. If you are a full-time university student and have your parents to support your education, they are basically your main source of income. For those who don’t have that luxury, part-time jobs, student loans, or a side hustle can be listed under income. Then there are those lucky enough to get a full scholarship to college, or have a patron or donor paying for their education.    

Step 3: Categorize the Items

The next step is to classify your expenses in an organized manner. You can get ideas from the tips above. Group your items according to your preference. Identify which items are your fixed and recurring expenses. You can also group your expenses into different categories: housing, academic-related, food, etc.  

 Step 4: Set Aside Savings 

It is never wrong to set aside an amount for the future. And it’s never too early to learn the value of saving and frugality. Keeping and sticking to a budget helps you regulate your spending habits. Everyone, not just college students, needs to keep themselves in check, especially when it comes to spending on non-essential items. 

FAQs

How much should a college student have in savings?

According to an article published on CNBC, Marguerita Cheng, CEO and co-founder of Blue Ocean Global Wealth, stresses the importance of saving, especially for college students. She urges them not to focus on the amount, but on the habit of saving. Just starting is the most important step. If $100 per month is unrealistic, then start with $25 every month.

How can college student afford groceries?

College students need supplies. But grocery shopping does not always need to be a spending spree. If you’re on a tight budget, preparing a grocery list ahead of time will help you avoid picking out any unnecessary items at the supermarket. Be on the look out for any sales, discounts, or coupons that can be used at the grocery. Another tip is learning how to cook. College students who have basic cooking skills don’t always have to spend on takeout or food deliveries. It’s more economical compared to always eating out.

How to budget as a college student?

The first step is identifying where your money is coming from and where it is going. Being aware of your spending habits and patterns is a crucial step if you want to craft a realistic budget that you can actually stick to. Categorize your items into income and expenses. You can further classify your expenses into several groups. Determine which of them are essential and non-essential. Indicate the amount for each fixed, recurring, and flexible expense.

Sticking to a budget in today’s world is becoming increasingly relevant and more challenging than ever. When everything we could ever want and need is available at the click of a mouse or a tap of a phone; and when advertising is in every nook and cranny, our impulses can sometimes get the better of us. College is the right time to develop budgeting skills- skills necessary to navigate a consumerist and materially-driven world. Download a college student budget sample today and get started!