Budgeting as a College Student

Finance, accounting and fintech, a man on a computer and calculator working out his business budget strategy. Businessman at his office desk, laptop, money management and financial investment online.
Finance, accounting and fintech, a man on a computer and calculator working out his business budget strategy. Businessman at his office desk, laptop, money management and financial investment online.

The idea of finally moving into your own place and having freedom is exciting, and it should be! However, with this new freedom comes a lot of responsibility, such as handling your money. 

Figuring out if you want to buy groceries for a week or go on a night out with friends can be daunting, especially with living expenses increasing. Being a college student doesn’t have to mean living off of ramen for a whole week or not being able to figure out if you should prioritize your textbooks for the semester or rent for the month. 

Not all is doomed, though. There are ways for college students to take hold of their financial situation! Making a budget is is something that will be useful to you not only as a college student, but throughout your life as well. “With more clarity on your spending and saving habits, you can work toward bigger goals, such as paying off student loan debt, traveling and saving money for future milestones like moving to a new city after college,” says CNBC.

Set it up

To start off, you will need some sort of organization method. This can either be an excel sheet with your different sections or a template from a budgeting site. Canva has a whole selection of templates that you can use for free, as does Google Sheets and Notion

If you are building a budget from scratch the two basic categories would be your income and your expenses. 

The important expenses

Focus on the important expenses. These would be the essentials like groceries, rent, utilities and other bills that meet your basic living needs like gas or insurance. Split them up into categories and give yourself a set amount of money for each month. For example, your grocery amount could be $150 for the month. This just depends on the amount of money you feel you need for groceries. 

Obviously, your utilities, rent and other bills are a flat fee that you can calculate. Still, in these expenses make sure you include some pocket money. You never know when you want to order takeout, buy new clothes, or go out for a night on the town. However, this amount should be minimal and not larger than your basic living expenses. Always remember your needs vs. wants!

An important element in the expenses section would be a savings portion. Although this money is not to be used, it is always useful to add it into the expenses section. You never know when you might have a health emergency or when your car might need a repair. Always be prepared! 

The income 

Your income is a rough estimate of all your assets. This includes your savings money as well. For this section it is always important to date and amount your stream of income. For example, if you get paid bi-weekly include how much you’re getting paid from that paycheck and what the stream of income was.

Remember, as a college student you can get income from other places besides a job. Donating plasma, selling your old clothes, or getting a paid internship are all possible options. Wells Fargo suggests, “Include what you’re earning from your job or Federal Work-Study, your allowance, financial aid, and scholarships.”

Credit cards are also an option if they are used responsibly. As a rule of thumb, don’t spend the money you don’t have! You can use a credit card for routine expenses such as buying gas, and in the process, this can help build credit early on, which will benefit you in the future.

After figuring out all your assets, add the total up and you can see how much money you have for the month. 

The final step   

After calculating both your expenses and income, figure out if you have any money left over for the month. Now, the smartest thing to do next is putting that money into a savings account. You could also take it for extra pocket money, but keep in mind that has already been accounted for in your expenses!

Once you have this your budget together, you can use it to plan for the rest of the semester. Wells Fargosays, “If it looks like you’ll run out of money before the semester is up, look at areas where you can cut back. For instance, instead of spending money on dinners out, get your friends together to make a meal in the dorm. You can also save extra cash by opting to purchase or rent used textbooks instead of new copies.”

Money should not make you nervous 

As a college student you are battling a lot of responsibilities like academics, work and your personal life. Finances should not be an added burden, however for many students it is. Budgeting just makes it a little easier for you to take control of that situation. As a reminder, don’t be scared to reach out for help! 

There are many resources that can help you, like applying for a college EBT card, food pantries, or just general assistance. Ball State also has resources like Cardinal Kitchen, which is a free food pantry for all Ball State students and offers a variety of food and toiletry items. The kitchen is open the last three Tuesdays of every month from 5 pm to 8 pm, in room L-27 of the Student Center. 

Whatever it may be, don’t be scared to reach out!   

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