The Complete Beginner’s Guide to College Budgets

Financial Planning college budget

The college years can be a real wake-up call for some students when it comes to money. It is the first time many young people have been on their own financially, at least to some degree.

Learning to create college budgets that keep track of the money that comes in and goes out during those four years can help you avoid a lot of post-graduate debt.

One of the most important college student budgeting tips is to steer clear of credit cards. Rules have tightened up as far as who can get a credit card, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for a student to get one before he or she fully grasps what debt and credit means.

If you need to get a credit card, I recommend saving it for emergencies only, and not using it as regular college spending money.


Step one when creating college budgets is to figure out how much money you have each month. In college, you can have a lot of sources of income, a few or none at all. If you don’t have any money coming in, you’ll want to find a way to get money, since college isn’t free.

Typical sources of income for students include grant money, scholarships, work-study jobs or other part-time jobs, and even student loans. Remember, money you get from mom and dad counts as income at this stage in your life.


After you’ve totalled up your monthly income, figure out your monthly expenses. If you pay tuition on a monthly payment plan, include that, plus the cost of your room and board, the cost of books and school supplies, and the cost of actually enjoying your college years.

It’s okay to have fun in college, such as going out with friends, but you probably have to limit fun spending if money is tight.

You might think that the college years aren’t a time to be saving, but I disagree. When you’re figuring out your expenses, also add in an amount to put aside just-in-case. You might need to pay for car repairs or for an unexpected medical procedure.

Although you hope you won’t need it, the emergency money can come in handy.

The Comparison

The aspect of college student budgeting tips that a lot of people struggle with comes next. Compare your income to the amount you’re spending each month. You want the income amount to be equal to, if not more than, the amount you’re spending.

If it isn’t, you need to trim. Cut away the frivolous expenses first.

That means trim the extra pizza each week or limit the amount you spend on going out. If your expenses are too high after you’ve trimmed the extras, you’ll have to find a better way to make use of your college spending money.

For example, you might be able to trim expenses further by getting used books, using the library instead of buying books, or by cutting down on the amount you use your car if you have one.

College budgets are fluid things. If you set one up during your freshman year, don’t expect it to stay the same for the next four years. Revisit the budget every semester or quarter.

You might need to make changes, as the cost of tuition or room and board changes, or if you end up getting more financial aid or a higher-paying work-study job.

Learning to budget early in your college career means you have more time to actually enjoy life as a college student instead of constantly having to worry about money.

“The Complete Beginner’s Guide to College Budgets” was written by Kelly Anderson. 


Leave a Reply