As a college student, you have lots of new responsibilities. Not only do you have to take charge of your own class and study schedule, but you have to get used to living on your own and taking care of yourself.
If you’re like many students, then you might have some student loans that are financing your education. Once you leave school, though, you’ll have to be able to make your monthly payments and manage your living expenses.
Getting started on budgeting early is a smart move that will help you avoid money problems when you graduate. Whether you need a budget to afford your college expenses now, or you’re just trying to make smart decisions for the future, here are some steps you can take to get your budget and financial situation under control.
Budgeting | How Much Is Your Income?
The first thing to figure out when creating a budget is how much money you have coming in. Whether you’re getting money from loans, your parents, a job, or another source, it’s important to list everything that’s coming in. That way, you know how all your expenses fit into your net income.
Keep Track of Your Debt
The next step in taking control of your finances is understanding what you owe. It’s very important to keep close tabs on any debt you’ve acquired, including student loans, car payments, and credit card debt.
Make a list of all your debts and your monthly payments for each one. If you’re not paying on your student loans yet, be sure to factor them in as an additional expense when you leave school.
Make a List of Your Fixed Expenses
The biggest fixed expenses for college students are usually tuition, room and board or rent, and loans. You might also be paying for internet, your cell phone bill, and insurance. Put all of these fixed expenses into your budget.
If you have any bills on autopay, like a gym membership or streaming service, put them on your list. A realistic budget will include everything you spend each month as even those $5 subscriptions can add up. If you need to save money, take a look at this list and see if there’s anything you can cut.
Estimate the Variables
Some variable expenses are essential: food, transportation, and utilities, if you’re living off-campus. Your books and school supplies will be different every term, so you won’t be able to know exactly how much they will cost. Any “extras” will also fall into this category.
When estimating your variable spending, it’s better to overestimate than underestimate. Take a look at your spending over the last few months and create an average cost you can use for your budget moving forward. Some months will be less and some will be more, but you’ll have something to aim for.
Use Apps to Stay on Track
Once you’ve calculated your income and expenses, it can be easiest to use a budgeting tool like Mint or You Need a Budget. That way, you don’t have to keep updating a paper budget and you can use a range of helpful tools to help you stay on track.
Educate Yourself on Financial Topics
Because many of your expenses are likely being financed by loans for the time being, it’s all too easy to graduate without knowing what your expenses will look like in the future. Educate yourself about financial topics as much as you can so you won’t be caught off guard when you start living independently and you’re paying back your loans. Podcasts are a great way to learn if you’re busy and don’t have time to read except for your classes.
You might also consider learning more about investing so you can get started early and pay off debt sooner. Some college students start investing even before they graduate!
If possible, it’s always better to buy used when you’re in college. You don’t need to pay the markup on brand new textbooks, furniture, or other essential items when you can find them used but still in good shape. Check online for local listings, ask your school’s bookstore about used copies, and shop online for what you can’t find locally. Just make sure you’re getting the right edition when you buy used textbooks!
Set Yourself Up For the Future
It’s very tempting to spend money on takeout and other extras in college, especially when you’re busy with your academics. But if you can keep your luxury spending to a minimum, you’ll be glad you did in the long run. To reduce financial stress after graduation, it’s best to keep your spending in college to the essentials as much as possible so you can save up.