Budgeting in College: What You Need To Know


The average American college student spends $35,551 per year on tuition, housing, living expenses, and supplies. Scholarships and grants can help alleviate the financial load, but ultimately, it’s up to students and their parents to find ways to make their education more affordable. One way they can do so is by budgeting in college!

This post will help you learn to reduce your expenses while in college, so your education doesn’t leave you up to your eyeballs in debt or living on instant noodles for four years. Keep reading for great tips on saving money and making a college budget!

Talk to Your Parents

If you are a traditional college student, you may have your parent’s financial support. It’s important to talk to them about your college expenses, their expectations, and what they are willing to pay for. Doing so will avoid surprises or conflicts and help you devise a plan together.

For example, your parents may be willing to cover your tuition, books, housing, and meal plan. But what about entertainment, clothes, eating out, and other expenses?

Each family is different and has a unique financial situation, so be appreciative of any help your parents offer. They’ll be more likely to help if they see you genuinely value their support and don’t take it for granted.

If they expect you to contribute to your expenses, you’ll likely need to work part-time while you attend school. Start looking for jobs on campus, nearby, or online. Then, think about how your work schedule will affect your course load.

Take Advantage of Grants and Scholarships

You may be able to pay for your education without getting into debt or taking out a loan. For example, if you get a scholarship to college, you can use financial aid, such as a federal grant, to cover your living expenses for the year.

Start looking for grants and scholarships now, at least so you know when to apply. Find out what you can use the funds for and whether you’ll need to meet any eligibility requirements.

Make a List of Your Expenses

You shouldn’t wait to start budgeting! Before you get to college, list the expenses you expect to have. Remember to include small costs since these can add up to hundreds of dollars throughout the semester.

Here’s what you should include in your budget:

  • Housing and utilities
  • Tuition
  • Textbooks, course materials, and school supplies
  • Bedding, furniture, items for dorm
  • Internet, cell phone plan, or streaming services
  • Transportation
  • Meal plans, eating out, coffee, and groceries
  • Entertainment and subscriptions
  • Clothes and shoes
  • Cosmetics and haircuts

If you don’t know how much one of these areas will cost, do some research. Some of these expenses will be reoccurring, while others, such as furnishings for your dorm, will be one-time costs.

Thus, it’s helpful to break down the costs of going to college into upfront expenses and then figure out what it will cost monthly or per semester. Your projected budget will help you stay on track at collegeā€”so save yours for later.

Use a Spreadsheet to Track Expenses

You could keep track of your expenses with pen and paper or type out your budget on a word document. However, many people find it helpful to use a spreadsheet.

You can use separate columns for different categories and keep a running total of your monthly expenditures. This helps identify areas where your spending is getting out of hand.

If spreadsheets aren’t your cup of tea, try using an app that tracks your expenses. Just be aware that some of these require a subscription, increasing your monthly costs. But, if this is the best way for you to create a budget and stick to it, the subscription may be worthwhile.

Cut Back Where Needed

Tracking your expenses is only helpful if you do something with this data. Take some time every week to evaluate how much you are spending. Then, calculate how much you have left in that category.

For example, if you budgeted $100 for eating out but already spent $80 in the first half of the month, you’ll need to cook most of your meals for the next couple of weeks.

If you already went over budget in one area, explore other categories where you can borrow. You may not need to buy any clothes or school supplies this month, even if you have already allotted some of your income towards those expenses.

Tips for Saving Money

You’d be surprised how many people overpay for things. Thankfully, you don’t have to! Here are some college finance tips that will help you get what you need at a fraction of the cost.

Buy Used Textbooks

Most colleges sell used textbooks on campus, and sometimes they are half the price of new ones. If your school doesn’t sell used books, look for them online by title and IBSN (so you get the correct edition). You may be able to rent them through Amazon or get access to the digital version by subscribing to the publisher’s app.

Shop Wisely

If possible, shop at stores with affordable prices. For example, Walmart may be the best place to buy school supplies, and ALDI may be the best for groceries. If possible, use coupons (whether paper or digital ones).

When buying online, make it a habit to search for coupon codes before checking out. Use reward programs, such as Honey, to turn online purchases into the chance to earn gift cards.

Use Student Discounts

As a student, you’re eligible for discount programs, even on expensive items like electronics. If you pay for subscriptions like Spotify or Hulu, switch to the student plans. And, when in doubt, ask cashiers if they offer a student discount.

Take Advantage of Credit Card Rewards

If you must use a credit card, only use it if you know you’ll be able to pay it off before your statement period ends. With responsible use, a credit card could be an excellent tool for saving and living cheap. You can get cashback and rewards, such as points to redeem for gift cards or plane tickets for spring break.

Budgeting in College Doesn’t Have to Be Hard!

College budgeting is a great way to learn money management skills that will last a lifetime. So get to work, create a budget, and be determined to stick to it. If you do, you’ll set yourself up for financial success now and after graduation.

If you enjoyed these helpful tips on budgeting in college, be sure to browse more of our articles related to education!

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