Student Life

The College Student’s Guide to Monthly Budgeting

Take control of your student budget.

Student Contributor, Jasmin Kaur

February 15, 2023

The College Student’s Guide to Monthly Budgeting
While budgeting can seem arduous, below are five easy tips to help you start taking control of your spending and saving habits!
Budgeting: the word itself evokes anxiety and apprehension in even the most experienced financial folks. So it’s no wonder that college students tend to avoid budgeting at any cost, especially when they're notoriously low on funds. However, no matter how high or low your monthly income and expenses, budgeting is an excellent way to practice fiscal responsibility and try to save money for the future (or at least make sure you have enough to get an ice cream cone for the next time you feel like treating yourself)! Without further ado, below are five tips to help you get started on budgeting!

Taking Control of Your Student Budget

Calculate your income and expenses monthly.

Before you do anything else, it’s crucial to calculate your monthly income and expenses, especially those that are not fixed. For instance, if you have a side hustle with a fluctuating income stream, try to calculate the monthly average. Similarly, if you already know about that one-time expense coming up, mark it down ahead of time (for example, an oil change or buying textbooks at the beginning of the school year). Note down these varying earnings and costs alongside the recurring ones (such as your regular paycheck or utility payments), and have an estimate before the month begins. Also, don't forget to put aside some cash for your emergency fund. Ideally, 3-6 months of expenses should be covered, but work towards an attainable goal that fits with your income. Whether it be $5 or $15, any amount of cash is will help towards build an emergency fund.

Schedule your payments according to your paydays.

Schedule payments according to when your paycheck arrives. Whether it be a car payment (for those commuters out there!) or shopping for groceries, spend in a way that works with you, not against you. Almost all companies allow you to alter your payment due date at least once yearly, so use it to your benefit! For instance, many of my payments—whether it be the car loan payment, credit card bill, or others—are all due near the end of the month. For me, by sticking to one or two payment due dates, I don't have to worry about tracking which bill is due when and can avoid late fines. However, for other students, it may be easier to spread out the due dates depending on their payroll schedule instead of paying everything all at once (and to be honest, it can be a bit disheartening to see your checking account emptying all of a sudden). Do what works for you, and avoid those late fines!

Plan ahead!

Birthdays, anniversaries, textbooks, car oil changes, Christmas, traveling back home, back-to-school shopping, etc. whatever cost can be planned for ahead of time, do it! Saving up for the expenses beforehand can help you avoid financial stress when you’re already worried about last-minute gift buying and crowd navigating. Additionally, having extra money set aside can be another source of emergency funding.

Cut out unnecessary expenses!

Don’t get a gym membership when your college already includes that in your tuition costs. See if streaming services offer student discounts (Hulu and Disney+ both offer discounted student rates at half price!), and when making a big purchase (such as buying a digital device), always check for a possible student discount first. They might say no, but there's no harm in asking! For example, Amazon offers a free six-month Amazon Prime trial for college students, and shoe companies such as Nike usually offer some kind of deal at the beginning of the school year.

Don’t forget the fun stuff!

While budgeting is important, so is your mental health. If possible, leave some money aside for leisure activities and entertainment. The semester can get chaotic and busy, so plan some time (and save some money) to spend a few hours to yourself. Whether it be a nice dinner with friends or family, going to the movies, or just having a day to yourself, let yourself relax to avoid burnout and have a happier and healthier semester! While budgeting can be overwhelming in the beginning, it can help strengthen your fiscal skills and allow you to take better control of your spending and saving habits. Create or buy a colorful budgeting planner or spreadsheet to remain motivated (Etsy and Canva are both great options), and make sure to repeat the process for each month. While it may be tempting to skip it here and there, in the long run, consistent budgeting will help you save money and maintain a stronger sense of fiscal responsibility. Then, next time, perhaps you’ll be able to treat yourself to that fancy restaurant you’d been eyeing for a while instead of the usual dining hall or ramen experience!

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