Keeping Your Budget on Track

By Elise Nelson on February 24, 2021

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Managing money in college can be a difficult task, even for the most financially savvy individuals. Sure, there are many ways to have fun with friends without spending money, but social plans often involve shelling out some cash. Going out for drinks or dinner, catching a movie, going shopping; your college social life can really eat at your bank account. Resisting the temptation to spend is easier said than done, but when you have bills to pay and groceries to buy, it’s time to get picky about your expenses. There is a way to have fun and stay financially responsible, though: budgeting. Check out these budgeting tips to help you get on track.

keeping your budget on track

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Calculate your income

In order to create a budget, you’ll first need to calculate your income. You may have a part-time job while you’re in college. The easiest first step is to figure out what you make at your job weekly: take the number of hours you work in a week and multiply it by your hourly rate. If you work 20 hours a week at $10 an hour, then you make $200 a week. From there, you can figure out how much you make in a month. It’s also important to take note of whether you get paid weekly, bi-weekly, or once a month, as this will determine how you use your budget.

Break down your expenses by month or by week

You know your monthly income, and now you need to figure out how you’ll spend the money. Consider any monthly bills, such as phone, rent, car payments, or utilities. Take note of how much each of these bills cost, and when the bills are due. These types of bills are usually paid monthly, so be sure to keep enough money aside for those. It may help to divide the bills’ amounts by four; this way, you will know how much money to put aside during each week of the month. You should also take note of any monthly subscriptions you may have, such as Netflix or Amazon Prime.

There are also essential purchases you might make weekly, like groceries or gas. Determining a grocery budget can take some trial and error and often depends on how many meals you make in a week. For example, if you have a part-time dining hall plan, you can determine how much you’ll eat in the dining hall versus how many meals you’ll make yourself. If you aren’t sure, it’s always best to overestimate the budget a little. That will just mean a little less money for non-essential purchases.

Open a separate checking account for bills and essentials

You may be less inclined to touch your money for bills and essentials if you open a separate checking account for these expenses. You can check out your bank’s process for opening a secondary checking account. When it’s all set to go, you can divide your money between your “miscellaneous” spending account, used for wants, and your “essentials” account, used for needs. After that, you can also consider opening a savings account. Here, you can put away money for something you’re working towards, like a new car, or for general post-college life.

Live within your means

The key to keeping your budget on track is making sure you’re living in a way that you can afford, based on your income. One easy rule to follow comes from Senator Elizabeth Warren’s book, All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan – the 50/20/30 rule. This budget rule states that you should divide your monthly after-tax income into three categories. Allocate 50 percent of your income to spend on needs. Bills, groceries, anything needed for school, gas, and maybe some subscriptions can be included here. Then, allocate 30 percent to spend on wants and miscellaneous purchases. Finally, put 20 percent of your monthly income aside for savings and debt. Check out NerdWallet’s 50-20-30 budget calculator to do the math for you!

keeping your budget on track

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

You should stick to these percentages as closely as possible. If you are struggling to do so, this may mean it’s time to make changes. Those changes could be cutting out some subscriptions, turning down costly outings with friends, or searching for a more affordable living space.

Research student discounts and coupons

There are more benefits that come with being a college student than many people realize. With a bit of research, you’ll likely find a ton of online and local businesses that offer student discounts. A school email address can get you an Apple Music subscription for just $5.99 a month. There’s also Spotify Premium Student, which combines your Spotify subscription with Hulu and Showtime for $4.99 a month.

You can also find websites that offer great deals specifically for college students in fashion, travel, food, tech, and more. For shopping in person, you can ask businesses near your college if they offer any student discounts. Oftentimes, all you need as proof is a student I.D. card. Finally, be sure to search for any coupons on groceries to cut down your food bill.

Split subscription costs with friends or roommates

Chances are that you aren’t the only friend or roommate paying for multiple subscription services. Perhaps you can split the cost of any mutual monthly subscriptions, like Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime, with one or more trustworthy friends. It may help to take turns paying each month. Another option is to split an annual subscription evenly. One person can be in charge of the account and collecting fees. With apps like Venmo and CashApp, splitting payments with friends couldn’t be easier.

Maintaining a budget in college is possible with a bit of discipline and organization. Follow these tips to make sure you stay on track to financial success.

It’s no secret that college costs a lot of money. Make sure your investment in higher education is protected with GradGuard. Our affordable tuition insurance and renters insurance plans are specifically designed for college students. Customizable plans make it easy to protect your tuition, room and board, laptop, bike, and so much more.

By Elise Nelson

Uloop Writer
Elise graduated from Albright College with a B.A. in Communications/Journalism in 2018. During her studies, Uloop became Elise's very first online publication, and it opened the door to online freelance writing and editing opportunities at The Inquisitr, TheTalko, ScreenRant, and more. After a few years away from Uloop, Elise was thrilled to rejoin the National Team in 2021.

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