How to build a college student budget template for student success

College savings and money managementStudent success depends not only on grades, but also on how you budget your money, pay your bills responsibly and financially prepare for the future. Whether you’re one of the many students working your way through school or your parents are footing the bill, the sooner we learn about handling money and expenses, the better off we’ll be. Some tips for successful college life include creating and sticking to a super simple budget template (also called a budget calculator), prioritizing expenses and managing your loans and grants. Read on to learn how!

In “Back to School Tips: Student Budget Planner,” Kerry, a writer at offers these suggestions: “A student budget is a financial plan for tracking the flow of money into and out of your life. A student budget lets you identify the costs of your education, plan ahead for a shortfall, and see ways to save more of that borrowed dough for the stuff that matters — like tuition. A budget can also highlight the spending habits you’re not aware of and help you better plan for future spending.”

Fill out a budget calculator

The best way to take control of your expenses is to fill out a budget template or budget calculator. There are many online, such as the one created for college students by the Federal Student Aid office in their report, “Preparing a budget will help you plan for college or career school.”

A budget template is simply a list of all your monthly expenses, including:

  • tuition
  • school supplies & books (backpack, binders)
  • housing
  • food (campus meal plan, groceries, take-out)
  • clothing
  • utilities (electric, phone, computer)
  • transportation (bus, subway, car care, gasoline)
  • healthcare (insurance, check ups, prescriptions, dental)
  • entertainment
  • miscellaneous (toiletries, laundry, membership dues, postage)

And a list of your Income sources:

  • jobs, full/part-time (monthly)
  • savings account & 529 plan
  • financial assistance
  • grants and scholarships
  • loans
  • non-taxable income
  • veteran benefits
  • Mom & Dad!

Write out the amount in each category. Add up your total monthly expenses, then your total income. In a perfect world, your income will be larger than your expenses. If it isn’t, you’ll have to take the responsible route and decrease your expenses or increase your income.

Prioritize your expenses

Yes, pizza is high on the list of essential items for college students. But if you’re like most students and your expenses are more than your income, you’ll need to prioritize which expenses are more important than others. Keep track of how much you’re spending and eliminate the nonessentials, such as entertainment and eating out. Don’t spend money to please others; if everyone is going out on the town, don’t feel pressured to go with them if you can’t afford it. Avoid loaning money to others or borrowing money from others; this can be a slippery slope. Be careful with credit cards. They can be expensive in the long run, make you dependent on easy credit and teach you bad personal finance. Some other ideas to save money: cancel your campus meal plan and make your own meals, and live off campus with roommates to save money on room and board.

Other budgeting tips

In her September 21, 2012 article, “Budgeting Your First Year of College,” Jodi Okun recommends some budgeting tips for students.

  • Manage your student loans – Bring about $500 with you for expenses before loan disbursements arrive.
  • Manage your scholarships and grants – Keep your grades up to keep your scholarships, and monitor your bank account to ensure that your grant money is accounted for.
  • Balance your checkbook – Know exactly how much cash you have on hand. Some software programs will even do it for you.
  • Keep an emergency fund – Have money in a savings account for emergencies.

Will you create a budget for your expenses? What are some of your other money management tricks? Let us know in the comments below!

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