College Budgeting 101

Your guide to smart financial planning
three students ordering food at a restaurant near campus

Oh, the joys of coming to college! You’ve been waiting for this time to experience what this "adulting" business is all about. For many students, college is the first time you’ll be on your own. That means you’ll be making your own decisions — including financial ones — without your parents’ input. Here are a few tips to help you navigate the college budgeting landscape and avoid common pitfalls.

Managing College Costs

Students often forget that the cost of college is more than just tuition and books. You’re going to need notebooks for class, a new laptop, dorm decorations, a parking pass and more.

  • Keep track of your expenses so that you know what’s coming up. It’s best to try to plan for everything and limit the amount of surprises that may surface. That way you have the funds to cover any expenses your financial aid does not.
  • If your class schedule allows, work part-time when you’re in college. Especially, if you can land a job on or near campus. If you need something to wear to your interview, check out the Professional Wardrobe Program for interview and professional attire.
  • Student discounts are too good to pass up! There are a variety of spots both on campus and around town that offer student discounts. You can also use Roo Bucks at select off-campus locations, so don’t lose your ID. It can come in handy.
Budgeting and Saving

If you learn to budget now, you’ll be set for the future. Budgeting helps manage your finances and guide your spending. 

  • Keep a track of your spending patterns, and do a monthly assessment of what you’re spending money on so you can make adjustments accordingly. To record your spending, use a pen and paper, a spreadsheet, or a free app.
  • It’s better to overestimate your expenses and underestimate your income. This helps create some cushion so you’ll always have a little left over after bills and other obligations.
  • If you get a financial aid refund, don’t spend it. Put it back into your savings account for a rainy day.
  • Always comparison shop so that you can get the best prices and best value. There are apps on your phone that will price compare for you.
  • Build a semester budget. A budget is your own personal money plan. At the start of each academic year, use your financial aid award letter, tuition bill, and bank statements to estimate your income and expenses for the semester. If you have more expenses than income, look for ways to cut back on spending or to increase your income. Once you’ve set your budget, start tracking your income and spending in order to reach your goals, grow your savings and avoid unnecessary debt.
Credit Cards

If you use them wisely, credit cards can actually help you build your credit. Before you apply for a card, think carefully about how you plan to use it and whether you have the income necessary to pay your balance in full. 

Keep these things in mind if you’re looking to apply for a credit card:

  • Get one card with a low APR rate.
  • Never spend more than you can afford to pay back.
  • Keep track of your expenses
  • Think before you use. Do you really have to charge it or would another payment method work just as well? 
  • If you get a credit card offer in the mail, don’t feel obligated to accept it.
On-Campus Resources to Help

Budget documents are living and should be constantly reevaluated. As things change over time, feel free to make updates. If you need help getting started, the Financial Wellness Center offers free, one-on-one budgeting sessions as well as budgeting templates and additional tools and resources to help start your journey toward financial wellness. 

Published: Jun 24, 2019

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