With more clarity on your spending and saving habits, you can work toward bigger goals, such as paying off student loan debt, traveling and saving money for future milestones like moving to a new city after college. While you may have fewer expenses during college, it’s still a good time to start tracking your money. The budget you create now can help you throughout your 20s and beyond. Plus once you get the budget set up, you only need to make small adjustments as your income and spending habits change.
Here’s how to create a budget as a college student.
Set Financial Goals
Setting realistic financial goals gives you a head start to create your budget. It’s important to have something to work toward financially, whether it’s paying all of your bills on time every month or saving up for a vacation. But it’s just as important to ensure you’re working toward realistic goals you can actually meet so you don’t end up disappointed by missing goals outside your capabilities. Think about what kinds of goals you want to set, both short- and long-term.
- Save enough money for next semester’s books.
- Pay extra on your student loans or other debt payments each month.
- Pay off your student loans within the next five years.
- Save up for the down payment for a new car.
Tips to making a budget
1. List monthly expenses
Next, you’ll want to list all of your monthly expenses. Here are some common college-related expenses:
- School supplies (such as textbooks and electronics)
- Rent or room and board
- Gym memberships
- Household goods
- Phone, internet and monthly streaming subscriptions
- Transportation (such as gas, train tickets and bus fares)
- Loan payments (such as student, auto and personal)
- Insurance (such as health, rental and auto)
- Utilities (such as electricity, water and gas)
- Miscellaneous (such as gifts, entertainment and apparel)
And while deposits into a savings account aren’t an expense, it can be helpful to include savings so you remember to put money aside for future goals.
2. Limit Eating Out and Choose Your Meal Plan Wisely
Most schools offer several meal plans in different price ranges. Many students save money by choosing a lower-cost meal plan and eating some meals at home. Students can also shop at affordable grocery stores and cook their own food to save money.
3. Purchase Second-Hand Goods
When money is tight, you can’t dream about a shiny new car and a sleek MacBook. Rather than spending your hard-earned money on brand new things, purchase pre-loved items. They can include a car, electronic gadgets, furniture, and books. Check your local thrift stores, charity shops and websites like, Craig’s List, Gumtree, eBay and Amazon.
And you know the saying, ‘One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure’, well that’s what Freecycle is for. Whether you’re looking for something specific, or simply looking, there are usually loads of things that other people might not want but might fit your needs and requirements perfectly and what’s more – it’ll be free!
4. Find out what you can get for free
When you are a student, there are some things you don’t have to pay for.
For example, student houses do not need to pay Council Tax, as long as the only people who live there are full-time university or college students.
You can also get medical prescriptions for free. Prescriptions are free to all residents of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, but in England everyone still has to pay.
However, students aged 16-18 don’t have to pay, and once you hit 19 you might be eligible to apply to the NHS Low Income Scheme. If your application is accepted, you can get free prescriptions. The same process applies for dental treatment and sight tests.
5. Use student discounts
As a first-time—or returning—college student, you might be surprised to learn about all of the discounts available to you. Keep track of the places you go to eat, where you shop, and what you do for fun. Find out if these businesses offer student discounts, or research alternative options to help you stick to your college budget.
- Entertainment | Movie theaters, aquariums, and museums often offer student discounts.
- Transportation | Students can take advantage of preferred pricing on vehicles from carmakers and tickets from transportation authorities.
- Car insurance | Most auto insurance companies offer student discounts based on academic performance.
- Music | Apple Music and Spotify offer discounted streaming plans for students.
- Technology | Buying laptops, tablets, and cellphones from Apple, Dell, Lenovo, or Microsoft can be significantly less expensive with a student discount.
- Shipping | Students are eligible for a 50 percent discount on Amazon Prime.
- Sports & Athletics | Many retailers, ski resorts, and sports teams offer college students discounts.
- Dining | Fast-food chains, such as Subway, Chipotle, and Burger King,offer discounts and even free menu items at participating locations.
- Other | The Groupon Student Program offers college students 25 percent off local deals for the first six months and then 15 percent offas long as they are a student.
6. Fun money
College is meant to be an enjoyable time. Although you will need to stay focused to keep your grades on track, you can still enjoy the things that make you happy.
Don’t be afraid to add a “fun money” category to your budget. You’ll be able to spend these funds without any guilt whatsoever. You should enjoy life and set aside some money each month to do whatever makes you happy.
7. Crunch the Numbers
Now that you’ve organized your expenses, it’s time to crunch the numbers. Start by adding all your expenses together. Then, subtract that number from your monthly income.
If the final number you get is negative, that means that you’re spending more money than you make each month. If the number is positive, you have extra money to spend or put toward your savings and emergency fund.
Now that you’ve put the hard work in and finished creating a budget, it’s important to stick to it. Following your budget while in college can help you pay off debt and graduate with strong financial habits that can help you achieve long-term life goals.