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Budgeting as a College Student: The Need, The Options, and The Steps

While budgeting might not seem like a lot of fun, neither is waking up senior year to realize that in addition to the possible student loans you’ve taken out, you’ve also piled on additional debt from overspending. Plus you’ll likely score some favorite child points with Dad if you tell him you’re budgeting!

The need:

For most, their college years are the the tight years. Unlike people who have already graduated and work full time with a good salary—college students spend a majority of their time doing work that they are paying to do and learn. Side jobs like nannying, tutoring, and even interning are rarely lucrative. This makes college an ideal time to start looking at a budget. Once you get out into the real world, being financially successful means knowing how to live within your means.

The options:

There are different options for budgeting. Lots of individuals now choose to use online budgeting sites like and There is also the low tech option of budgeting worksheets and cash envelopes, and then there is an inbetween point of using excel and entering in receipts and budgets. Students should choose the method that best fits both their personality and their budget needs. Cash envelope budgeting is the most rigorous of the options, but might be needed if a budget is too hard to stick to otherwise.

The steps:

1. First, decide if you will budget by month or by semester. Figure out if tuition and books will be a good portion of your expenses. If you are living on campus and paying rent by the semester, planning based on academic blocks probably makes more sense. Otherwise a standard monthly budget probably makes the most sense.

2. In addition to the tuition and room and board that you might be financing, you should determine approximately how much you will be spending on other items. Make a list of educational extras like books, supplied and tutoring, groceries and food, clothes, etc.

3. Look at past semesters expenses to make sure that your estimated figures are realistic; if you are a new college student then consider asking friends or looking around for cost trends online. If your expenses can’t be reconciled with income or available funds, look for ways that you might be able to curb your expenditures. This step often involves separating wants and needs.

4. Track your spending and expenses and make adjustments to either the budget or spending habits as necessary.


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