Budgeting As a Student: The Way to a Smoother College Experience

How a budget can make your college life a million times easier.
October 30, 2017
7 mins read

So you’ve made it to the next milestone in your life: college. It’s an exciting and nerve wrecking feeling and there are around five million things that you need to figure out that must be taken care of. You want to make the most of college, and you want to get to the exciting parts, but it can all become completely overwhelming all too quickly. Getting organized and keeping a leveled head, as well as remembering that the best college experience is a balanced one, will keep you from falling into that overwhelming hole the next four years of your life have the potential of becoming.

A budget is one of the most important things you’re going to have to figure out in order for your experience to run smoothly; it has the potential to make or break your college experience. A budget shouldn’t make your life harder or more stressful. In fact, it’s supposed to do the opposite, it just sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is. Once your budget is set up, you’ll see why the effort to make one in the first place is worth it.

The main focus when it comes to budgeting as a freshman is getting an idea about your spending habits and then work on tweaking them to be able to save money and spend wisely. But, to be able to rearrange your spending habits, first, you must know what you’re working with and know exactly how much money is available to you. Figure out your sources of income in order to set up the basis of what you have. Where is your money coming from and how timely is it? Whether it be from financial aid, family support, a job, scholarships or a meal plan with your campus, keeping track of it all helps you organize it later on when it comes to spending.

Once you have that figured out, the next step will be looking at your spending habits and seeing if you need to make some changes or not. It might be a hit or miss because nothing is ever set. Life does happen, and everything can change in an instant, but try to guesstimate how much you think you’ll be spending per week, day or month; whichever works best for you. You’ll have an idea of the amount of money available to you, which will make it easier to avoid situations where you’ve spent too much and you begin having trouble.

Because you are on a college campus, dining halls and restaurants will most likely be a huge part of your life, so plan for it. Because the food part of the budget is probably the most spontaneous one, it is important to feel like you have enough funds to be able to eat and enjoy what you want. There is nothing wrong with going out to eat or using the dining halls, but knowing how many times you go and keeping in mind the money you’ll be spending will help you have better control over what you purchase. Academic expenses are something to also be aware of. Books, notebooks, pencils and all the fun supplies are what make college run smoothly. Books are the biggest expense when it comes to academics (for the most part). Though, one way to save money when it comes to books is to refrain from buying new versions of any texts you are required to get. Setting aside money for this, while keeping in mind what you have, will help ease your mind about money when it comes to buying your necessities.

Keyword: necessities. So far, I’ve mentioned food and academic spending because those are expenses that are sure to come up. When setting up a budget, it is important to start thinking about what you need, not what you want. Getting the necessities—paying for tuition, food, academic spending—in order within your budget will make way for more fun stuff. Once you know what you must set aside for necessities—if you do it right, there will be something left—whatever you have left over can be used for the more spontaneous little spendings and emergency finances. That is, of course, if you are living on-campus as most freshmen do; living off-campus adds a couple more finances to your budget.

Keeping receipts and records of your spending will help you immensely. You can narrow your budget down based on your spending with receipts. It might sound like a bit of a hassle, but it’s worth being aware of your money and being able to handle it a lot smoother. All you need to do is set aside a place where you can put your receipts (if you don’t already).

It may seem complicated, but once you get started budgeting will seem less and less complex as time goes on. There are resources available such as guides and apps that can help you so you don’t have to do it all alone. College is overwhelming enough as it is, and keeping a budget will give you one less thing to worry about. When you don’t have to fret about how much you’re spending or if you shouldn’t have bought something, it becomes a lot easier to navigate through college. Knowing that you have a plan will allow you to feel comfortable when you spend and allow yourself to focus on your classes and friends. College has it’s good and bad moments, and budgeting will help you keep the balance you need to enjoy it.

Valeria Garcia, University of Texas at Austin

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Valeria Garcia

University of Texas at Austin
English Major, Creative Writing Minor

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