Setting a Budget for the Remainder of Your College Career

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counting quarters when budgeting

Welcome to adulting! It seems fun at first, but it’s also pretty risky. There’s a lot that can go wrong — especially with your money while you’re in college. The best way to protect yourself from debt or pesky fees is to set up a budget.

Here’s how you can make the best one possible in just a few easy steps:

  1. Gather Your Supplies

Before you get started, you’ll need your paperwork. Get a hold of a copy of every bill you pay regularly. Some frequent ones include your car insurance, phone, credit card, medical bills, debt to your parents, gym membership, Netflix subscription, etc. If you live in an apartment, bills would include your rent and utilities.

2. Categorize Everything

Then, if you use a debit or credit card, look at your complete spending statements from last month. Write it all down or print it out so you can categorize it. Our most common categories include Housing, Phone/Cable/Internet, Transportation, Food, Lifestyle, Entertainment, Insurance, Debt. Giving, and Savings.

Take those receipts or statements from your bank and start to give everything you spent a category. Eating out goes in Entertainment. The shoes you bought is classified as Lifestyle. Your credit card bill is in Debts. Do this until you’ve got a full picture of every dollar you’ve spent over the last month.

making a budget spreadsheet

3. Look at Your Income

Next, look at your paychecks, as well as any extra regular money you make from side jobs like babysitting or allowances from your parents. This is defined as income. If it’s not steady (say you work hourly or get tips), round down an average to be safe.

Compare your income and your total spend from last month. Does it cover your bills? If yes, then you’re doing great and proceed to step five. If not, move on to step four.

4. Get a Reality Check

Overspending in college is a huge issue and we rarely fail to see it until it’s too late and we’re short on cash. Now that you know you’re in the red, you need to act. Go back to those categories and see what you can cut. You can probably do without daily coffee or another new outfit in your closet every single month.

For example, if you’re consistently short $100, take $10 off of each category or cut out your shopping habit altogether. Can’t cut anything? Time to make more money with a side job or extra hours!

5. Give Yourself an Allowance

One great way to keep yourself within your budget is to ditch the cards and go cash only. I know — crazy! But it works, especially for overspenders! Having cash will make you think twice about those splurge night outs. And it will help you visualize your money. Use envelopes, clips, or even dividers in your wallet for your categories.

If you’re not comfortable carrying large amounts of cash, you can set up checking bank accounts or a reloadable Visa gift card for your big spend items (like eating out or shopping).

Start saving, even if it is just a piggybank!

6. Be Wise With the Extra

Now is the time to pay down your student loans. If you pay while you’re in college, even a small amount monthly, you’ll save HUGE on the amount owed when you graduate. No student loans? Get investing! Open a Roth IRA or Traditional IRA and save for retirement. Or open a traditional savings account and save for that future expense like a new car or your study abroad. When you know how to budget, you can afford to treat yourself.

Taking the initiative to establish a budget while still in college is one of the most important money-conscious actions that you can take. If you can abide by a stricter budget while in college, it will be a breeze post-graduation. Not only will you feel like a million bucks by having your finances under control, you will be well on your way to saving that million!

It’s Spring Break!

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It’s that wonderful time of year when, in the middle of projects and midterms, a whole week of free time suddenly opens up. The birds sing, the flowers bloom and, in some states, the snow melts.

So, you have a whole week of freedom! Your friends want to go roadtrip, your parents want you to fly home, your aunt in Germany wants you to stop by. All of this makes you realize….

You’re on a budget.

Don’t fret! Since this is my third college spring break, I’ve come up with a few things to help you have an awesome spring break without taking a punch to your wallet.

  1. One-day road trips. I know, you’re probably trying to figure out how to get from Texas to New York in one day now. By one-day road trips, I mean road trip within your state. Just Google “Fun things to do in (insert state here)” and bam! Tons of concerts, museums, sights and places pop up! These little mini road trips will keep you from worrying about spending half your savings on gas, food and hotel stays. Plus, you get to discover more about the state that your attending college in.
  2. Budget wisely. If you think $200 will get you through a week-long stay at Cancun, you need this tip. Some people get hyped up about the trip to their destination….but forget to plan on the costs coming back to campus. Friendly apps like Mint will help those of you with smartphones budget out your entire week by subject (food, hotels, entertainment, etc) and will warn you if you go out of your preset amount. Don’t have a smartphone? Just go to mint.com and work on it from any computer.
  3. Pick one thing. Planning on flying to New York to see a concert and then jetting off to California to go the beach before flying back to your hometown to see your parents and then flying back to school…that’s a lot. Pick one destination spot and focus on activities in that area. Don’t drive halfway across a state for one concert and halfway back to get to your hotel; that wastes money. Check out what’s going on in the city you’re heading too. Chances are, there’s a lot of fun events in that one area.

I hope this helps! Happy Spring Break everyone!