How to create a college budget

Mo’ money may equal mo’ problems, but if you are like most college students, you are probably finding the lack of funds to be more problematic. If you haven’t done it already, the time is right to craft a college budget—it should be high on your things-you-need-to-know how to do list.

Keeping this mentality will help you maintain your college budget. (Credit:

Keeping this mentality will help you maintain your college budget. (Credit:

So how to create some financial goals that will keep your bills paid and leave you a little something for fun? Read on for some advice.

What’s in a college budget

When it comes to creating some realistic financial goals, it helps to be honest about the money you have coming in and what your outgoing expenses are. Greg Bennett blogged, “How to Create a College Budget,” April 19, 2013, for with the breakdown of cash in and cash out for most college students.

Cash In:

  • Income—“Plan out what you will make, after taxes, weekly, and UNDER-estimate what you will have at the end of the semester,” Bennett advised.
  • Allowance—If you have any scholarship money or if you parents are sending you cash, place that money in this category.
  • Loans—These need to be in their own category, because you have to pay this money back … with interest.

Cash Out:

  • Tuition—You know, the money you pay to go to class.
  • Rent—The cash that covers the roof over your head.
  • Groceries—You do have to eat.
  • Books and supplies—Those textbooks aren’t always cheap.
  • Transportation/Car—You will need to get from here to there, and whether you have a car or take the bus, you need to factor in the costs of gas, rides, etc.
  • Emergency fund—Because something is going to go wrong.
  • Social budget—Part of college is going out and having fun with your friends.

Bennett also advises students to have a fund for miscellaneous items, like getting a haircut or buying a t-shirt from the university store. Finally, he cautions college students against credit cards. “Most college students shouldn’t have a credit card. Many do. DO NOT fall for the credit card scams,” he wrote.

What a college budget looks like

What a college budget looks like is definitely something that falls into the things-you-need-to-know list for all college students. U.S. News & World Report offered an insider’s view on just how creating financial goals for a real college student can play out in “What Does a College Budget Look Like?” by Julie and Lindsey Mayfield January 24, 2012.

Lindsey Mayfield wrote that while she was lucky to have her parents footing the bill for the majority of her expenses, she was still responsible for things like food, clothes and gas. After reviewing what she spent freshman year, Lindsey offered this advice, “One thing I’ve learned is to beware of the Target run—or trips to a similar store. I spent huge chunks of cash at Target last year on miscellaneous items that seemed important at the time, but now are things I can’t seem to remember.”

Pitfalls for college students to avoid

You’ve got a college budget prepared, and you feel pretty confident about the financial goals you have established.  Great! But there are still some things you need to know before you get too cocky—things that can derail your spending fast. “Six College Budget Busters Every Student Should Avoid” by Emily Driscoll for October 1, 2012, shared some pitfalls to avoid:

  • Quick bites or treats. That little run to the coffee shop adds up. You are better off allotting $20 a week for a pick-me-up to stay within your budget.
  • Overspending on meal plans. Sure that three-meal-a-day plan seems like a good idea, but do you really think you are going to make it to the dining hall that often? Be honest about your eating habits before selecting a plan.
  • Too much socializing. Yes, college is about having some fun. But you can’t go overboard with the social events and expect to stay on budget. Try to find friends who not only have similar interests as you do, but budgets as well, that way you are less tempted to overspend.
  • Having a car. It is great to be able to come and go as you please, but car costs add up. Be sure that it is worth it where your budget is concerned.
  • Getting over-involved in campus activities. Driscoll wrote, “find out about fees and dues before committing to any kind of activity.”
  • Spring break trips. Everyone needs a little vacation, but this is an area you need to be extra careful about. You don’t want to end up stranded in a strange state (or country!) and be out of money.

Do you have a budget set for your upcoming college semester or year? Do you find it hard to stay on budget? Share your tips and advice in the comments.

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