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!

How to Start a Budget in College

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As a recent graduate ready to step into adulthood, you’ll find college is the best time to start working on your financial knowledge. To start, you need a budget! Whether you make a few bucks at your student job or if you have no bills to pay, having a budget can teach you how to manage your money and prepare yourself for later in life. Not sure where to begin? Here are the first steps you must take when starting a budget in college.

 

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Step 1: Collect the Evidence

Here’s your first challenge: for one month, keep every receipt, every pay stub, every bill, and collect it in one place. If it uses money, you keep it. At the end of the month, you will use this data to help you set the groundwork of your budget. Just be sure not to change your spending habits. You want this month to be as accurate as possible.

Step 2: Lay Out the Income

Add up last month’s spending numbers, and write down how much you brought in (after taxes) in a spreadsheet or piece of blank paper. This number is your “Income” – highlight it in yellow or another cheery color!

 

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Step 3: Record Your Bills

Next, go through your last month and look for necessary bills. These may include a credit card statement, car insurance and gas, or rent and utilities if you live off campus. Write down the name of the bill, when it was due last month, and how much it costs. Then, total it all up at the bottom of the line and label it as Must Pay!

Step 4: Track Your Additional Spending

Just like you did with your bills, make another column and write down the name of what you bought (or a nickname like “Dinner Out with Jane”) and how much each item came out to be. Add everything together and label it as Additional Spending.

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Step 5: Do the Math

Take the amount from your Additional Spending and Must Pay and subtract it from your Income. This is the amount you have leftover.

Step 6: Savings Plan

Let’s say you have money left over after you’ve completed Step 5. We suggest using that money by dividing and conquering. Split the amount in three: one part goes towards your savings for a trip or a non-essential purchase, one part goes towards paying more than the minimum towards your bills (or towards your student loans if you’re paying early), and the other could go in a retirement account.

 

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Step 7: Getting Out of Debt

What if it’s the other way around, and your bills add up to more than what you make? Now that you know what the damage is, you can do one of two things — spend less or make more. Sometimes cutting back on eating out can do wonders while other times you may have to get a second job, such as grabbing babysitting hours to make the bills. Whatever you do, just don’t stop paying bills or rely on credit cards to get you out of debt. You’ll only end up worse than when you started.

Step 8: Replicate

Every month, sit down and repeat these steps with the new numbers from the previous month. If it’s too much work, consider using pre-made budget spreadsheets or tech like Mint.com that tracks your spending for you. With practice, budgeting and spending your money wisely will come easy to you!

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