When you’re a college student, your monthly expenses are almost certainly higher than your total monthly income. This isn’t a surprise. When you’re taking a full course load, it’s nearly impossible to work full-time too.
And while you might have a part-time job, you’re probably not bringing in enough to cover everything. Even with student loans and financial aid factored in, you’ll need to be careful with your money.
As a result, living on a budget is essential.
A budget can help you live within your means. Carefully tracking your money lets you see where it goes every month and to identify areas where you can cut back. You can also use your budget to monitor savings, whether you’re putting money away for spring break or saving up for a car.
You’ll be more conscious of your spending. Budgeting might inspire you to think twice before ordering take out or grabbing another indulgent frappuccino between classes.
Learning to budget now also establishes healthy financial habits for your future. You can use this simple budget template for years to come, adjusting it as your financial situation changes. When you follow this template and stay on track, you can avoid building up debt, which can be a major setback on the path toward financial freedom.
Ready to get started? Learn how to budget as a college student by using this template for an easy-to-manage and easy-to-follow budget.
Your budget template
Before you dive into the numbers, learn about how you can effectively budget as a college student. This budget is built for the entire semester since, like many students, you may be living on a set income during this time. Your income might not change much from month to month, so you can track your spending on a semester basis.
A semester budget has a few advantages. First, you don’t have to reset your budget every month, which saves you time. You’ll just continue to track your spending from month to month, comparing it to your savings and spending goals.
Next, this budget template allows you to look at trends for the semester. You might notice that you’re spending too much money on entertainment, clothes, or food, for instance. When you see that category creep up too high, you can adjust before you hit the end of the semester.
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Track your income
As you explore this college budget template, start by building your semester income. As a college student, your income likely comes from a number of sources and, unlike other times of your life, the money might not be coming from your job.
So, take some time to sit down and think about the various sources of funding you will have in the coming semester.
Your income may come from some of these sources:
- Job. If you have a part-time job on campus or off, those wages should be shown as income on your budget. Multiply your hourly rate by the number of hours you work per week to determine how much you’ll bring in weekly. Then, multiply that figure by how many weeks there are in the semester to determine how much money you’ll make this semester. If you already have received a paycheck, work off of that figure to account for tax deductions.
- Work-Study. If you’ve got a work-study position on campus, calculate those earnings in the same way and list them as part of your overall semester income.
- Scholarships and Grants. If you were awarded scholarships or grants, these funds can also be considered part of your income per semester, whether designated for tuition or living expenses.
- Financial aid and loans. Similarly, money received through financial aid or student loans, should be factored in too.
- Parental support. Your parents might still be providing support when you’re in college. So, if Mom and Dad are giving you a set amount of money every month or semester, be sure to account for this in your budget.
- Other income. In the “other” category, note any extra income you expect to bring in. Perhaps you tutor high school students, do some freelance work, or sell crafty creations online. While this “other” category might not represent consistent income, if you expect some extra money coming in, account for it here.
Identify your fixed expenses
Fixed expenses are those costs that are consistent throughout the semester. Since these expenses are expected, they won’t catch you by surprise. Identifying your fixed expenses is the first step in determining how much spending money you have for the semester.
Your fixed expenses fall into several categories, which are defined in this budget template. As a result, you’ll be able to easily input these expenses for simple tracking.
Consider these fixed costs when designing your budget:
- Tuition. Identify your overall tuition costs for the semester, which you can obtain from your college or university.
- Rent/housing. Whether you are living on-campus or off-campus, you will have housing expenses on a monthly or per-semester basis.
- Books, supplies, and fees. Tuition isn’t always an inclusive fee. Often, you’ll be on the hook for other fees for the semester. Make sure you factor in these costs, even if you have to estimate the total for textbooks.
- Phone. If you’re a college student, chances are your smartphone isn’t too far away. Unless Mom and Dad are paying for your plan, remember to put that monthly wireless bill into your budget.
- Medical and dental insurance. You have options when it comes to securing insurance as a college student. While college students can stay on their parents’ plan up to age 26, not all have access to health insurance through their parents. So, if you have medical and dental insurance payments, factor them into your fixed expenses.
- Car insurance. If you own a car, you need to have insurance for it. If you aren’t on your parents’ family insurance plan, then add this cost to your budget.
Track variable expenses
Variable expenses are different for every student. Even more, they change from week to week or month to month. These expenses, then, might seem harder to prepare for. But once you get the hang of budgeting, you’ll have a better sense of how much you spend in these categories each semester.
To start, begin tracking expenses in these categories.
- Entertainment. Date nights, concerts, movies, and bar tabs fall into this broad category.
- Travel. Whether you’re going home for Thanksgiving or planning a spring break getaway, any travel expenses should be tracked here.
- Utilities. If you’re living off-campus, you may be on the hook for utilities like electricity, water, sewer, and internet. These costs can vary month to month, depending on usage.
- Clothing, hair, and beauty. A new outfit, a haircut, and new beauty products fall into this category.
Whether you drive or take a bus to campus, you have transportation costs. While your car and insurance payments are fixed expenses, variable transportation-related expenses can be anything from car maintenance, gas, and parking fees, to bus or train fares.
For travel home and on spring break, don’t forget to include plane fares and travel insurance.
Track your spending on food, including groceries and dining out, every week to build a total of how much money you spend on food each semester. If you’re on a food plan with your college, remember to add incidental spending on snacks and meals out with friends.
Credit card payments
Monthly credit card payments tend to be variable, based on your spending, and fall into this category.
Are you putting money away? Track your savings in your budget whether you’re setting aside money for an emergency fund or saving up for a trip. Whatever the reason, you can keep track of your savings in this template.
Budgeting the easy way
This budget template is designed to work for busy college students. Enter your income and expenses throughout the semester. If you keep it updated, you’ll be able to see your projected costs in each spending category, as well as your actual costs, at a glance and in real-time.
As you refer to the budget throughout the semester, you’ll also be able to identify problematic categories so that you can correct your spending and stay on track.