plus a free student budget template that will change your life!
This post is all about how to make a college budget.
When you’re a student, sticking to a tight college budget is easier said than done.
At the same time, staying on-track financially is no different than creating a morning routine or doing skin care… It just takes practice and consistency.
It’s most effective when it’s a habit you’ve cultivated that eventually becomes a no-brainer.
Does it take a bit of work at first?
Yes, absolutely. But it really doesn’t have to be complicated!
Here are some habits that financially-savvy college students swear by (myself included)!
This post is all about how to make a college budget.
This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll earn a commission if you purchase through my link, at no extra cost to you. Our full disclosure policy is pretty boring, but you can read it here.
COLLEGE BUDGET TIPS:
1. Use a college budget template
Once you get into the habit, creating a college monthly budget is actually really easy… as long as you don’t reinvent the wheel every time!
What do I mean by this?
Having a standard student budget template that you can just print out at the beginning of every month (or better yet, print out all of them at the beginning of every year) makes life so much easier because then you don’t have to create your budget each month completely from scratch.
Instead, you have all your standard categories and you just plan each budget based on what you have going on that month. Having a budget for college students template seriously makes life so much easier!
You can download our free student budget template which has standard categories plus extra space to customize your budget to your own needs every month.
Hundreds of students use this student budget template every month as a student budget planner, and since it’s free, there’s not much to lose by joining the party!
2. Calculate your exact income, down to the cent
I know this sounds super extra, and it’s not that you have to be over-stressed about every single penny, but it really does help to calculate your income & expenses in exact costs rather than rough estimates.
Especially if you have multiple sources of income, it might not just be 1 single paystub you’re looking at to figure out your income. There could be multiple factors.
So adding up all those sources of income to get a total number is a really helpful way to understand just how much money you’re actually working with.
3. Subtract standard expenses
I guess this one is kind of obvious, but it still needs to be said.
Add together all your SET EXPENSES (costs that don’t change month-to-month) and subtract that from your income to determine how much money you have left to dedicate to other necessities that aren’t necessarily ‘fixed’ numbers (like gas, groceries, utilities, etc).
Examples of standard expenses include things like:
- Car/insurance payments
- Phone bill
- Subscriptions like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Prime
- Monthly parking permit
4. Keep your living expenses separate from you school expenses
This is one of the student budget tips that has single-handedly enabled me to get this far into my degree debt-free.
Having a separate account for your tuition, textbooks, and any other school expenses is a great way to keep yourself stress-free when an unforeseen school expense comes up.
The way I do this?
I chip in extra money into my school savings account whenever possible so that there’s always money in that account, and that way, when I suddenly need to buy a textbook or pay tuition I don’t have to take it out of my monthly budgeting.
Makes life so much less stressful!
5. Pay yourself whenever possible
This goes hand in hand with the tip about having a separate savings account specifically for school expenses.
Chipping in extra money into a savings account whenever possible is a great way to always make sure you have some money to fall back on when you need it.
I’m a big fan of the idea of ‘paying yourself first’, although I know that’s not always easy or realistic in college.
So, try to put money into your savings right away whenever you can. And when you can’t, just throw in some leftover money at the end of the month whenever possible.
It takes some discipline, but it is a huge game-changer!
6. Keep ‘going out’ money in a separate account
I didn’t start doing this until recently but let me tell you, it has CHANGED. MY. LIFE.
When it comes to expenses that aren’t exactly necessities, such as going out for drinks or a bite to eat, putting money into a separate checking account for that will REALLY hold you accountable.
It makes it so much easier to manage that money and not overspend because you have a finite amount of money in the account each month and you can easily see how much you have left, rather than having to try to keep track of how much you’ve spent and determine whether you’ve overspent.
7. Budget for unforeseen expenses
If I’m being honest, this is the one I struggle with the most every time I make my monthly college budget with my student budget worksheet.
It’s so hard to set money aside for unforeseen expenses when you don’t know what that money is going to end up being used for.
But without a doubt, every time I don’t account for this category, there ends up being an unforeseen expense that I need to pay for!
If it helps, come up with a reward system that will motivate you to set aside money for this category. It’s really important because it helps you keep your budget on track!
An example of a reward system would be promising yourself that if you don’t end up needing the money that month, you put it towards something you’ve really been wanting to buy that you couldn’t otherwise afford.
8. Redistribute money as you go
Redistributing money as you go throughout the month makes it so much easier to manage your budget, stay on track, and ultimately, save more.
How does this work?
Let’s say you unexpectedly break your glasses by accident and you need to get them fixed. You spend $50 getting them fixed, but you had only budgeted $30 for unexpected expenses (which this would be).
You’re now $20 over-budget on your overall monthly financial plan. So, how do you fix it?
Simple… You take $20 off a different category wherever you can afford it.
I know that sounds painful, but it’s actually not as hard as it seems.
Let’s continue with our example:
You need to find a category to take $20 and redistribute it towards your ‘unexpected expenses’ category. While reviewing your budget, you notice that you’ve budgeted $150 for gas this month, but it’s already the 18th day of the month and you’ve only actually spent $75 on gas.
In this case, you can probably afford to take $20 off your gas budget and put it towards fixing your glasses, and you still won’t go over-budget on gas. So it evens out!
9. Never stop learning
Listen, I’m just a girl with a blog… Not a financial expert.
And while I think I’ve done pretty well for myself (and helped other people do pretty well in college), it’s always best to learn from the experts.
Some of the most popular items that LVDletters readers have purchased this year are the finance books I’ve recommended. So, here’s a list of books that I’ve read that have absolutely changed the game for me financially and helped me get through college debt-free!
- Clever Girl Finance by Bola Sokunbi
- Financial Peace Revisited by Dave Ramsey
- Know Yourself Know Your Money by Rachel Cruze
- The Wealthy Barber Returns by Dave Chilton
- Unshakeable by Tony Robbins