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Creating a student budget for college

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College students talking

Heading into freshman year at college can be an exciting time. Making new friends, creating memories and becoming independent are all part of the college experience.

For many young people, it’s the first time they’ve lived away from home. Starting a new chapter brings with it new responsibilities - such as being in charge of your own finances. Trying to balance living costs, textbooks and still being able to hang out with friends is all part of the college adventure.

How to budget in college

If you’ve never managed your own finances before, it can feel like a big challenge – but there are a few things you can do to make managing your money a little easier. College is all about learning, and knowing how to manage your money is part of the deal.

Plan your finances

Before you start paying bills or stocking up on essentials, you need to know exactly what needs paying out. Set up a simple spreadsheet that contains all your outgoing and incoming payments to help plan your spending more effectively. There are also a number of apps available that can help you keep track of your spending.

Take into account everything from textbooks to basics like food and rent. It’s also worth separating your ‘needs’ from your ‘wants’ -- this could go a long way towards helping you learn where to cut back.

For many college students, setting a monthly budget can help them break down their money and have a better idea of their overall situation.

College costs

College costs will vary depending on where you’re going to school, your living costs and a number of other factors. When you’re budgeting, be sure to include:

  • Tuition fees. Tuition fees vary depending on the school you attend. Look into getting a grant and scholarships to help out.
  • Fees for services provided by the college. These include things like library services and campus transportation. Service charges might be rolled into your tuition fees, but check with your college so you know to budget for it if needed.
  • Housing. Cost varies depending on whether you’re living on- or off-campus. Typically, on-campus costs can be in the region of $10,800-$12,210[1] per academic year -- but this can change depending on where you’re studying. Some students choose to live at home with their parents while studying to save costs. Some colleges include meals in campus housing fees, but for any extras you want, you would need to set aside some money. Some do not so be sure to check into this to be sure if it is included.
  • Books and supplies. Textbooks and supplies can cost around $1,250[2], so you’ll need to budget for this. Look at renting textbooks if you do need to budget, as this can be cheaper than buying them. You can also try to find secondhand copies online, or swap books with other students.
  • Personal items. Whether it’s clothing, personal necessities or entertainment, you’ll need to have the funds to cover what’s needed on a day-to-day basis. This will be your budget buffer zone – if you are short on funds, here is where you’ll make the cuts.

Income sources during college

Working out where your money will be coming from will help you create a realistic budget. Are your parents supporting you? Or do you have a job in order to help cover the costs?

If you’re planning to live on the proceeds of a scholarship, you’ll need to know how much you’re getting and when you can expect to receive the money.

Remember to also budget for the summer months – especially accommodation – as scholarships might not cover these.

It may also be worth looking into college grants, which are purely needs-based as opposed to merit-based like scholarships. College grants and scholarships do not need to be repaid, so may be more useful than a student loan (if you are eligible for one).

Money management tips for college students

  • Start saving. Save anything left over from your budget to help with any costs later down the line. But don’t forget to set some cash aside for fun activities now and then.
  • Pay your bills on time. Don’t risk fines or being cut off by paying bills on time. Use our same-day bill pay service.
  • Use money orders. Money orders are a secure way to make large payments like rent deposits. They can be tracked so you’ll know you’ve paid.
  • Cash your check. If you get a paycheck for a part-time job, cash your check right away so you know how much money you have for your budget.
  • Get a Shopper’s Card. You can save money and earn Fuel Points with a Shopper’s Card.
  • Embrace couponing. Get together with your roommates and save coupons.
  • Cook together. Create big pot luck dishes that everyone can share – they can be much cheaper than everyone cooking their own dishes.
  • Shop around. Be willing to shop around for everything from cell phone providers to grocery shopping.



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