How to Stay on Budget in College

Man calculates money on calculator along with piggy bank

Calculating a budget | Source: iStock

Budgets are for adults and people trying to plan for retirement, right? Well, yes, but they should also be a part of the typical college student’s life as well. While some parents can afford to pay for everything from their child’s tuition, to board, to activities, this just isn’t the reality for many people. Even those kids whose parents can pay their way through school need to learn to budget because doing so will help prepare them for life after college.

There are a lot of unexpected costs to life, and the same is true for college. Most people factor in the cost of tuition, and the cost of room and board, when they are planning college costs. However, there are many other costs that need to be considered. In order to stay on budget, students need to consider all the costs, and also make wise financial choices.

1. Make a budget

The first thing that a student needs to do to stay on budget in college is make a budget. Ideally, students will enter college with some experience keeping track of their money (perhaps by working part-time or completing chores and then choosing how to spend the money they earn). The trick is taking the lessons they learned in high school and updating them for college.

Often the tuition and board aspect of college costs are taken care of by loans or direct payment, but if not, they should be part of a budget. Students also need to budget for regular and unexpected expenses. Bankrate has a great budget calculator designed for students.

2. Make financial goals

Setting financial goals might sound like something to do after a student graduates, but they should really be part of a student’s plan to stay on budget during their college years. Setting financial goals will allow students to see the long-term picture. According to iGrad, student financial goals can include avoiding debt (by using cash or debit cards instead of credit cards), borrowing only what is needed (instead of taking out as much as a loan company allows), and also working during college. Students can set short-term goals that will help them stay on budget, and long-term goals that will encourage them to be careful with money so they have more in the future.

3. Work during college

glass jar full of coins displaying college

Savings | Source: iStock

College is supposed to be rigorous and demanding, but students can still work on top of studying. Many colleges have several job opportunities right on campus, including work study positions. Many college towns are also vibrant and lively communities, and interesting jobs might be available off campus as well. Working while at school will help students learn responsibility, and also have extra money to help meet their budget. If a student is able to find a paid internship or job related to their future career, they will also potentially learn valuable skills and have excellent networking opportunities. According to CollegeView, internships can help students improve their portfolio and also make industry contacts.

4. Prioritize the important stuff

Students need a place to sleep, food to eat, and books for classes. Most of the other stuff in college is extra. Part of the college experience also includes making friends and participating in activities. In order to stay on budget in college, students have to decide what is the most important to them. If a student wants to go out with friends, but their friends are always eating out and spending money, then the student has to decide if there’s room for those expenses in the budget. Participating in a club might be more important than eating out is, and students have to make concessions in order to stay on budget.

Students can do well in college, have fun, and avoid massive credit card debt if they stick to a budget. Another important step is simply keeping track of spending: it’s especially easy in college to have a lot of small expenses (such as a coffee or a bagel on the go) add up quickly. Creating and maintaining a budget, working, setting goals, and prioritizing wants are vital steps to sucessfully stay on budget during college.

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