As an undergraduate student, either attending an online or traditional university, opportunities to earn money are sparse. Thus, creating a budget is essential, especially when students only have a finite amount of money from scholarships, grants or loans. While creating a budget is fairly easy, sticking to it is the real challenge – it is important that all budgets are reasonable and easy to follow. For instance, it is unreasonable to only budget $20 a week for food, but rather $50 seems like a more reasonable amount to follow. Below contains tips on how to create a realistic, easy-to-follow budget for college.
- Firstly, students should determine the amount of money they will have per semester. This includes all earnings from grants, loans, scholarships, savings, parental contribution and employment. Ideally, students should make this figure conservative to be on the safe side.
- Once students have figured out how much money they will have per semester, they will need to determine their overall expenses. All expenses, such as books, car payments and transportation, rent, food, entertainment, personal needs, or incidental expenses should be accounted for.
- Next, students should take all the expenses they have determined, and divide them into two different groups – fixed and variable expenses. Fixed expenses are any expenses that remain constant, such as rent, car payments, and tuition payments. Variable expenses, on the other hand, always change. Examples of such expenses include food, entertainment, and other personal needs.
- When determining the budget for variable expenses, students should be more liberal to avoid creating a negative balance at the end of each semester. Instead of allowing $10 per week on entertainment, students should allow a higher, more reasonable amount, such as $40 per week. If possible, students should also break the variable expense categories into subcategories. When creating a plan. For instance, the variable expense category of entertainment could be broken down into “movies,” “snacks,” “bars,” and “concerts.” This allows for a more precise estimation of expenses.
- If students are in their first year, and they are creating a budget, then these expenses should be considered, with many being one-time costs. However, some costs may occur each semester, and include:
- Meals: For first year students who are living in the dorms, meals will generally be covered. However, students will probably still want to eat out and purchase snacks.
- Books and School Supplies: Students will be required to purchase textbooks at the beginning of each semester. However, to cut down costs, students should consider purchasing books used from online instead of paying full price at their university’s bookstore. Most lecture classes will also require students to purchase pens, folders, and notebooks.
- Computer and Printer: Before attending school, most students will be required to purchase a laptop and printer. Luckily, this is a one-time expense, but students should invest wisely and purchase a thorough warranty.
- Clothing: Typically, students will need to purchase new clothes at the start of each semester in order to account for the weather. Clothing should be factored in as a onetime expense at the start of each academic semester.
- Furniture: Furniture, another onetime expense, should be factored into students’ semester budgets especially if they are living off campus. Necessary furniture items may include a bed, desk, lighting, couch and refrigerator. Students may want to browse online for the cheapest rates.
- Travel: Travel expenses must also be considered when forming a budget. Especially if students are attending an out-of-state university, parents will need to factor in airplane or train tickets for all major holidays, including Thanksgiving and Christmas.
- Cell Phone: Upon entering college, students may want to consider changing their cell phone plans in order to accommodate their changing communication needs. Any changes in phone plans need to be reflected in their budgets.
- Once students have created an in-depth budget plan, they should open a checking account as well as enroll in online banking if they have not done so already. It is imperative that students have easy access to their accounts by possessing a debit card and checks.
- As an emergency option, students may want to consider signing up for a credit card. However, they should ensure that the credit card is not used for any non-emergency situations. Typically, credit card companies only issue credit cards with high interest rates to students, so in order to prevent debt, students should not use the credit cards for any other purposes other than those that have been designated.
- If possible, students should also try to save their money and try to cut back on frivolous expenses. With any money saved, this allows students to pay back future student loans, travel in the summer, or purchase a new car.
- Finally, in order to enact any budgeting plans, students will need to keep track of their daily and monthly expenditures. A good way to keep track of all money spent is to create a Microsoft Excel file with each budget category. Students should check their monthly bank statements in order to double check that they are recording all of their expenditures correctly.
By following the above budgeting tips, students will be able to save themselves from the jaws of debt. It is imperative that before starting each academic semester, students have a detailed idea about their finances, especially their expected income as well as their expenses. Without formulating or following a budget, students may find themselves desperate for money.