Budgeting Advice

Learning to manage your money wisely is one of the most important skills you'll learn in life. No matter what your degree, how well you follow lessons in budgeting and money can determine your success or failure in the adult world. As a college student, it is more important than ever that you learn good budgeting skills. Establishing a healthy relationship with money now will help you practice for the paydays of your future career. By following the simple advice below, you and money are likely to get along just fine.

Set Goals

It is inevitable — you will likely need to learn the fine art of penny pinching while you’re in college. You’ll be faced with lots of temptations to spend your hard-earned cash, so setting short and long term goals will help you stay focused and reduce impulse spending. Short-term goals may be as simple as saving for holiday shopping or school supplies. Long-term goals may include things such as saving for study abroad, purchasing your first car, or even putting money aside for a trip or special event. Either way, setting goals is an important component of achieving success with money!

The Difference Between Needs and Wants

The terms "need" and "want" are often used interchangeably. However, as a college student this distinction will be a very important one for you to make. Do you "need" a Starbucks venti coffee or do you "want" one? Do you "need" to buy that biology book or do you "want" it because you don't want the hassle of renting? Many students feel that having a car at school is an absolute necessity, but consider the additional costs you'll accumulate with a car on campus:

  • Parking permit $300
  • Gas money because you're driving everyone around
  • Possible higher insurance costs

By looking at "Needs vs. Wants" with a bit more clarity, you will be able to save big on the indirect costs of attending college. You can't control the tuition, room and board and fees charged by your school, but you can control the miscellaneous and transportation expenses associated with life as a college student. Download our "Needs vs. Wants" Worksheet (PDF) to get started on sorting out your priorities. 

Keep Close Track of Income vs. Expenses

Understanding the basics of your cash flow will help you manage your money and reduce unnecessary spending. The physical act of tracking your expenses on a weekly and monthly basis will allow you to see where your money is going and allow you to better analyze your spending habits and pitfalls. We've created an Income and Expense Worksheet (PDF), but you can create your own version with formulas by using a spreadsheet. 

Borrow Only What You Absolutely Need

You're not alone. Most college students find they need to take out loans to pay for college. However, the key here is borrowing only what you need versus borrow what you can and "want" (there we go again — a "need" versus a "want"). Because the Cost of Attendance (or student "budget") is built as an average for each student, there are costs built into that borrowing capacity you can control. Never borrow more than you absolutely need. 

Here are a few things to consider when it comes to borrowing:

  • Shop and spend smart. Books, supplies, transportation and other miscellaneous costs are all categories that can be reduced if you're a frugal spender, shopper and traveler. Don't borrow for these expenses if you can avoid it.
  • Work while you're in school. Contribute any cash you earn with on-campus or break-time jobs toward your bill and toward miscellaneous expenses to reduce the amounts of your loans.
  • Graduate in four years. Too often students drop classes without considering the long-term consequences of doing so. Each semester you add to your college experience significantly increases your debt and decreases the time you'll spend earning money. Buckling down now with your studies and seeking academic help when faced with difficulty will definitely "pay."

Think about the long-term gratification of less debt when you graduate versus the short-term gratification you'll feel with a little extra spending money in hand. Loans are a long-term commitment that you should consider very seriously. 

Money Management Tools 

Many powerful tools exist to help you manage your money. By tapping into these resources now, you'll learn valuable lessons that will set you on the right course for your future. 

  • Mint, acquired by Intuit in 2009, is considered by personal finance news and business forecasting publication Kiplinger to be the best of the best of online money management tools. This online tool is a great resource for you to start using while you're in college. Once you create your account, Mint links with your bank accounts and tracks your expenses, savings and investments all in one place. You'll see a real-time snapshot of your finances and can set up reminders to pay your bills on time. Mint also offers basic financial guidance on saving, budgeting and eventually contributing to and growing your retirement — once you land that job with awesome benefits.
  • 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy, by the American Institute of CPAs, is a site providing valuable articles and guidance on money matters. Interesting articles like "Financial Tips for Twenty-Somethings" and "What Baseball Can Teach You About Financial Planning" deliver content in a digestible format.