Pick a time frame
College students are lucky in that they get a fresh start a few times a year. Your employment and expenses may be different during the Fall semester, the Spring semester, or Summer break, so it’s probably wise to set your first budget within one of those timeframes; either a semester or a long break. If you’re a recent graduate or have your first job, you could also choose to do a month-by-month budget based on your monthly income.
Make a list of your income
Many college students work irregular hours or have irregular incomes due to factors like tips and overtime. If this is the case for you, make a low-budget guess of your income — the lowest it could realistically be. This way, you won’t set a budget that you can’t always afford. Also include monetary gifts and allowance, if you receive those.
If you have a regular monthly income from a full-time job or multiple part-time jobs, tally up what all your income streams amount to every month.
Again, if you’re unsure (for example, if you work irregular hours), it’s better to be conservative.
List your expenses
Coming up with a complete list of your expenses off the top of your head can be challenging, so start with the big-ticket items: tuition, student loans, food, rent, etc. You can pull out some previous bank statements (or download them from your bank’s website) to see what you’re regularly spending money on.
Here are some costs to consider. Don’t be scared! Since you are a college student, your parents may pay some of these for you; in your budget, only include the costs you are paying.
College expenses: tuition, fees, books, school supplies
Living expenses (on-campus): college room and board, meal plan
Living expenses (off-campus): Rent, water bill, energy bill, insurance, food costs
Transport: public transportation, car payment, car insurance, gas, parking
Medical costs: prescriptions, health insurance
Communication: cell phone, wifi
Personal expenses: clothes, hygiene, hair cuts, etc.
Debts: student debt, credit card debt
Entertainment: Netflix, take-out, going out, etc.
WANTS VS. NEEDS
If your expenses are a mile-long and you need to start cutting corners, make a distinction between “wants” and “needs.” Food, prescriptions, and insurance are “needs” that should always be included in your budget. Netflix and take-out, not so much. Scrap the wants in order of least important to most important until your expenses are more manageable.
Savings is an important area of your budget, but a lot of young people overlook it. You want to save in a few different areas; saving for big-budget items like a new laptop. Put this money in a savings account and leave it there except for emergencies or major planned expenses.
Balancing Your Budget
Here’s the basic equation for putting together your budget:
Income + Gifts + Allowance ≥ Fixed Expenses + Variable Expenses +Savings
Reviewing Your Budget
Next, take a step back and make sure that the budget you put together reflects you and your values. Do you care about charity or tithing, but leave it out of your budget? Or do you feel you’re spending more or less in a certain area than you want? Reflect, tweak, and re-balance until you’re happy with your answers.
Sticking to Your Budget
In the modern-day, sticking to a budget is easier than ever. If you’re reliable and will be sure, to be honest with yourself, you could even use an Excel or Google Sheets spreadsheet.