Budgeting in College

Learning how to budget (or a less daunting term – financial planning) in college will make sure you don’t end up with any startling financial surprises. Budgeting might seem like it could take the fun out of your college experience; but knowing where your money goes and how to avoid overspending will save you headaches later. In fact, come up with a spending plan BEFORE you get to college to make sure you’re in control of your finances when you step on campus.

Budgeting can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before, but there are plenty of resources to help you get started. OklahomaMoneyMatters.org has a personal budgeting tool and helpful information and resources including:

You can also check out the budgeting video from Federal Student Aid at StudentAid.gov.

A budget, in simple terms, is a spending plan based upon income (money coming in) and expenses (money going out). A good place to start planning is with your financial aid offer, including your college’s cost of attendance and your total aid awarded. You can then identify other income you’ll have coming in, plus savings. Next, determine other expenses such as car insurance, cell phone bill, gas and other costs you’ll have. Use the budgeting tools at OklahomaMoneyMatters.org to help you keep track of your income and expenses.

You can take these steps before and after you get to college to keep your spending in check.

Talk it out. Talk to those who are helping you pay for college. Make sure everyone is on the same page and be clear on who is paying for what. Even if you’ll be supporting yourself, inform others that you’ll need to be smart managing your money and that you’ll be watching your spending.

Essentials first, fun second. Account for necessities first – housing, transportation, utilities, etc. – then designate money for having fun. This will ensure your living needs are taken care of while still giving you room to enjoy leisure activities. Most college campuses host fun free events that can help you make the most of your entertainment budget.  

Discounts and sales help. Check to see if your favorite stores and restaurants offer a college student discount. Most businesses in college towns do what they can to help out students. Clipping coupons and finding sales can also help keep money in your pocket.

Avoid budget busters. Daily coffee runs or trips to the student union can eat away at your budget. You don’t have to stop these altogether, but limit yourself to one or two splurges a week. Things like buying a coffeemaker and purchasing snacks from the grocery store can minimize the impact on your budget.

Tackle college budgeting before you head to college if possible, and if you’re already there, now is the perfect time to get your finances under control!