A College Student’s Budgeting Basics

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shutterstock_83722339Going off to college is an exciting time. For most of you, it’s your first time away from your parents and the first steps you’ll take to become a self-sufficient adult on your own. As much as college is a time of self-discovery and figuring out what you want to do (and who you want to be) in life, it’s also a phenomenal opportunity to begin building a solid financial future for yourself.

No matter if you’re attending college on scholarship, have support from your family, or are working your way through, now is the time to learn how to budget your money appropriately—regardless of how much or how little of it you might have.

Embrace the Budget

Yes, it’s not the most exciting thing to do with your time but setting up a budget while in college will help you navigate those late night pizza runs and avoid the credit card tables in the student union. Take comfort in knowing that your budget will be pretty basic at this point in your life because you won’t yet have a mortgage or high living expenses to deal with (you might have more to list if you’re living off campus).

You also shouldn’t have debt accumulated at this point, and you can avoid it altogether if you build the resolve to adhere to your budget no matter what temptation is present.

What’s Coming In

Take a sheet of paper or open an Excel workbook and begin by listing the income you have. This could be from a part-time job, an assistantship, or even withdrawals you’ll make from any savings you have (money from summer jobs, etc). If you’ll be relying on savings, do a quick calculation to decide how much you can withdraw each month so that your money lasts until you’re able to start earning again.

What’s Going Out

Next, write down the various ways you might spend your money. Be sure to list everything from toiletries and gas for your car to laundry, clothing, and haircuts. If you’ll be paying for it at some point, it’s best to account for it now.

It’s also a great idea to add a “miscellaneous” or “oops” category for when life sends you a curveball. Ideally, this would be in the form of a savings contribution. Even if you’re only saving $25/month, every little bit counts!

Remember that the more you learn about money basics now, the better off you’ll be in the future. It can be hard to be concerned with life after college when you’re in the middle of all the fun but take comfort in knowing that these good habits you’re building now will pay you dividends for a long time throughout your life.

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