Budgeting for college isn't always easy. Creating a plan isn't really the hard part. There are just a couple of simple steps you'll need to follow to get it done: outline your expenses, determine your income, and allocate your resources to different categories. But after you have your budget plan in place, you'll be required to exercise a tremendous amount of diligence. This is the hard part! It is easier said than done for anyone, including those who have been living on their own for years, nevermind for new high school grads setting out from home for the first time! It might take some practice, but with patience and confidence, you'll eventually find your groove with managing your money and sticking to your budget.
We recommend talking to your parents before you get started so you have clear expectations for what expenses they are covering and what you will be expected to pay, either with an allowance they provide to you or through your own savings or earnings. The categories of expenses in your budget might look something like the bulleted list below, but make sure to tailor your personal budget to your own specific needs. For example, if you are living on campus, you are unlikely to have housing payments. Often times, tuition is paid up front, so if you don't have a yearly or monthly payment plan in place, you won't need to set aside money for that. If you are in a specialized program, maybe you'll have lab fees you want to work into your budget - you get the idea!
Next, figure out what income you will be receiving from any and all sources. Do you have a job that will be paying you? Will your parents be helping you out by providing you with an upfront or monthly allowance? Do you have any refunds coming your way from your student loans that you can use to cover expenses throughout the semester?
Once you've collected all of this information, it's time to balance your budget. Take your earnings/income and subtract your expenses and voila, you have either a surplus or a deficit. Any surplus can be allocated towards student loan payments (any amount you can reduce your debt while in school is a great thing!), increase savings for an emergency situation, and of course, a little bit of fun! College is the perfect time to explore your interests, forge strong friendships, and enjoy life. Just remember that when it comes to spending money on fun, don't go overboard. And, sometimes free events turn out to be the best!
Budgeting is so very important; it is a skill you should work on perfecting throughout your lifetime. For a simple breakdown of budgeting, check out the infographic below. A good tool to help you track your daily expenses and stay on budget is Mint, an app you can download on your phone. This program pulls data directly from your banks, credit cards and any other accounts that might impact your budgeting. If you don't feel like putting your information into an app, that's OK, try downloading a budgeting worksheet or simply track your expenses in Excel. We cannot stress enough how important it is to stay on budget!
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