Budgeting When You Are in School
There's no doubt about it: college is expensive. For most students, going away to school is the first time they experience more freedom than ever before, including financial freedom. Suddenly, you're living on your own instead of under the watchful eyes of your parents. You may be lucky enough to have an allowance provided by your parents, but more than likely, you've taken out student loans to help cover expenses and perhaps even have taken on a part- or full-time job. How can you balance school costs plus still having a life when your bank account is limited? Read on to find out!
Determine how much money you'll have access to during the school year.
Don't automatically assume that your parents are going to help you. Ask them if and how much they can afford to offer each month. List all sources of money you have, including scholarships, grants, student loans, allowances, savings, and work income. Regarding projected work income, be realistic about how many hours you can work while maintaining good grades in your classes and how much you can expect to make at what will likely be a minimum-wage job.
Calculate your total expenses for the school year.
Here are some typical non-negotiable expenses you can expect:
- Room and board (if living on campus)
- Rent, electricity, water, gas, and internet if living off campus
- Groceries (including things like toothpaste, shampoo, cleaning supplies, etc.)
- Course supplies (books, lab materials, etc.)
- School fees, such as for parking
- Cell phone plan
- If you have a car: gas, car insurance, car maintenance
- If you don't have a car: public transportation costs
- Health insurance, if you don't stay on your family's plan
- Tickets home for winter break
- Netflix and other streaming services
- Entertainment, clothing, dining out, etc.
- Holiday and birthday gifts
Determine how much money you have to live on.
Subtract your expenses from your income and divide by the number of weeks in your school term. This is how much extra money you have to live on each week during the school year. Hopefully, it is not a negative number. If it is, try to re-think your discretionary expenses. How often do you actually need to go to out to eat? Do you really need Netflix and Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime Video? You should also shop around to see if you can get a better deal on your cell phone plan, car insurance, and internet service.
How to Stretch Your Budget Further
There are a few ways to stretch your budget even further. One, of course, is bringing more money in. Start selling things on Etsy, babysit, offer your services as an editor or video designer on Fiverr, tutor, pick up shifts at the local coffee shop, and apply for more scholarships and grants. When it comes to the money you have, follow these tips to save more:
- Buy generic products at the store. You don't need name brand toothpaste, shampoo, or peanut butter. The store brand is often just as good and much cheaper
- Don't eat out. While it's easy to do, especially when you're not sure how to cook, it costs way more than eating at home or in the school dining hall (if you have a meal plan). There are simple cookbooks that exist just for budget-conscious college students who are new to the world of cooking, so consider checking one out of the library.
- Don't pay full price for textbooks. It's not unusual to spend hundreds of dollars a semester on textbooks. Buy used textbooks online and get books for your English and Philosophy classes from the library. Most publishers release new versions of their textbooks every year with minimal changes so that they can charge more. Save yourself the money by purchasing an older edition. You may also want to look into renting your textbooks or using an electronic version of the text.
- Coupons are your friends. There is no shame in couponing. Take advantage of apps like Ibotta and Grocery iQ to save big at the store.
- Get free or discounted entertainment. Use your student ID to take advantage of student discounts at museums, the movies, and more. Also, look into free entertainment options such as lectures and events at your university, hiking local trails, getting books and movies from the library, and going to the beach.
Finally, don't fall into the student loan and credit card trap. Don't think that you can simply take out more and more student loans to pay for spring break trips to Cancun or open new credit cards for shopping extravaganzas. While it may feel good at the moment, these decisions will come back to haunt you. Plan your university experience carefully so that you can graduate with as little debt as possible. Your future self will thank you.
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