plan your budget

How to Plan Your Budget as a College Student


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Budgeting. You hate it, I hate it…but we have to do it. Especially as college students! Knowing how to plan your budget is a super important part of being successful in college.

And somehow, I see like 90% of students NOT doing it. And that blows. My. Freaking. Mind. 

I will admit I’m probably a bit more strict with my money than most people. But that just means I have even more experience to prove to you that I can help you budget in college!

So why plan your budget?

1. Books and Other School Expenses

Okay, we all know this, but books are SO PRICEY it’s absurd. They’re an expense you should plan for!

I recommend that you save money throughout the summer so those big numbers don’t hit you all at once. This summer, for example, I set aside $500 to spend strictly on school expenses. It’s been incredibly useful to have that ready. 

I use the sinking fund system to save that money. Read this post here for more info about sinking funds!

2. Bills That You Have

I know that most students don’t have a ton of bills until you get an apartment. Before I moved into mine, I just had to pay my phone bill, medical insurance and my prescription.

Still, it was important to me to keep a budget with them listed so I always know exactly where my money was going and when.

Once you DO get an apartment, though, that list quadruples. (At least it feels like it, I’m just sayin’, lol.) Examples of the bills you would want to budget are:

  • rent
  • electricity
  • gas
  • water
  • medical expenses
  • phone
  • Netflix/Hulu
  • groceries
  • internet

How to Plan Your Budget as a College Student

3. Savings & Emergency Funds

Some people view savings and emergency funds as things you can just put money into when you have some extra.

That’s the opposite way to think, though! Budgeting in advance will ensure you deposit an adequate amount each month.

Having those accounts built up will give a cushion of financial safety! As college students, that’s really important because you never know when shi*t can hit the fan and you suddenly need extra funds.

So HOW do you plan your budget?

I plan my budget using my paper planner. But I want to say that budgeting can be super easy if you want to do it digitally, too!

Related: 55 Things to Track in Your Planner

Step 1: List the Bills You Know Are Coming

Make a list of the bills that are regular each month, what the amounts of each are and when they are due.

I also write them in the monthly spread of my planner. It’s a good idea to do this so that you can see if there are a lot of bills due around one period of time or if they’re fairly spread out. This will be important for the 2nd and 3rd steps of this budgeting system! 

After that, you should add up those bills. Seriously, add them to the most exact cent you can determine! This total is what you have to spend for a month!

It’s so important to acknowledge this because it’s gonna define how much money you need to make during that month at an absolute minimum.

If you don’t make that amount of money, you either need to figure out how to decrease the amount of bills you pay or make more money. I know that’s a lot easier said than done, but that’s a post for another time.

I recommend going over this every single month, even it seems repetitive. Sometimes things pop up that go a bit under the radar if you’re not consistently reviewing your budget.

Step 2: Incorporate Savings and Emergency Funds Amounts

First, you need to decide how much money you want to put into each of funds. Some people put $25 in, others put in $200. It’s entirely up to you! Base it on how much money you have coming in and how much you’re willing to put away.

It’s just important that you have the amount decided first because it makes you more likely to actually put it aside!

This part of your monthly budget, however, is something you can decide entirely on your own when it’s paid.

Look at when you have spaces in your budget. An example, I think, would explain this best:

You have your phone bill due the 17th, your car insurance due the 19th, and internet due on the 20th. But the last week of the month doesn’t have any bills. 

That week is the perfect space to fill in your “due date” for savings and emergency fund money! This way, you’re able to spread out when your money is leaving your account and you’re not having to lose all of your money at the same time.

I love this method because I don’t have to pay a crap ton of money all at once (outside of the bills that are determined for me) and it helps me organize my sinking funds. Check out Dave Ramsey to get a better understanding of sinking funds and other amazing money tips!

How to Plan Your Budget as a College Student

Step 3: Budget Everything Else

I know that heading is a bit vague, lol. But this step is really when you can decide where the rest of your money goes when it’s not going to a predetermined bill.

Basically, you want to give yourself some limits for how you spend the rest of your money. We college students have a tendency to throw our money around like we have it (which we don’t) and it can end up running out really quick!

Setting up boundaries for yourself will help you control your spending habits but still allow yourself to have fun and take care of other priorities! 

Things you can include in this part of your budget plan are:

  • groceries
  • going out to eat
  • coffee runs
  • shopping at your favorite store

Determine what you want to include in this part of your budget based on your lifestyle! This is completely personalized to what you know you’re gonna want to spend your money on.

An example would be: $200 for groceries, $30 on going out to eat, $15 on Starbucks, and $20 for clothes shopping.

Again, you have to know how much money you’re going to be bringing in. That way you know if you need to cut out those coffees or mall trips completely.

I highly highly recommend that you make a list of these boundaries. Under them, (or beside them, or whatever system suits your fancy) write down the expenses that fit under those categories as you spend the money so you know exactly when you’ve hit your limit.

I love these expense trackers from The Happy Planner, they are the perfect tool!

When you hit the limit, your spending on that category is done for the month. 

This system 100% takes some serious self control, but you can do it!! It takes practice, but I promise you’ll see some serious results in the love your bank account gives back to you. 😉

If you’re in need of a planner to help you with budgeting, Creative Year (the planner brand by Michael’s) has great, cheaper options to try out!

You’re Ready to Plan Your Budget! 

This simple budget plan will set you up for financial success and it’s a great start for budgeting as a student!

Do you have any other ways you budget? Share your methods in the comments!

Talk soon!

Sierra Mafield Blog



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