How To Make A Better College Budget: Tips And Resources (2024)

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If you’re a full-time college student, you may not have the time or energy to work a full-time job between your classes, social life and extracurricular activities. This means you’ll have to manage the income and savings you do have with extra care—every paycheck from your part-time gig, any contributions from your parents and all student aid you receive from your school, the government or other sources.

To manage your expenses, live comfortably, avoid debt and save money, you’ll need a college budget. Creating and following a budget can help you monitor your spending habits and practice financial responsibility.

This article overviews the importance of budgeting for college students, including tips on how to budget as a college student and eight recommendations for budgeting apps. Let’s dive in.

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Why Do You Need a College Budget?

A college budget sets a spending plan and limit to ensure you stay on track financially.

Aside from tuition, college students often spend their money on books, utilities, food, housing, transportation and recreation. Distance learners may have fewer expenses since they usually don’t have to commute or pay for college housing.

With living expenses and the cost of college looming over you each month, it’s important to stretch your resources to ensure your needs are met without racking up too much debt. Without a college budget, you’re at a higher risk of overspending, falling into debt and lowering your credit score. If you’re working within a budget, however, you can prepare for emergencies, repay your debts and achieve your financial goals.

How To Budget as a College Student

Take the following steps to prepare your own college budget.

Create a Budget Spreadsheet

It’s difficult to follow a budget that’s not well documented. Creating a spreadsheet for your spending plan allows you to visualize where your money should go, what to cut back on and whether you’re spending more than you earn monthly.

If you prefer not to use Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel, you can opt for budgeting tools that provide templates for you to fill out. In the next section, we’ll suggest various budgeting tools to consider.

Calculate Your Net Income

As a college student, you can receive financial support from various sources. You can earn income from a part-time job—on or off campus—or from family members. You may also receive scholarships or grants from the government or other organizations.

You can tailor your budget to fit the frequency of your income—weekly, monthly or quarterly, for instance. If you decide on a monthly budget, determine your net income, or the total funds you receive each month (after taxes). This will be the disposable income for your budget.

List and Categorize Your Expenses

At this point, write down everything you spend money on each month. Depending on your college lifestyle, your recurring expenses may include rent, groceries, school supplies, a gym membership, loan payments, savings deposits and transportation expenses.

After creating this list, determine which expenses are fixed and which are variable. Fixed expenses are essential expenses that stay the same from month to month, such as loan and rent payments. Variable expenses, such as healthcare, hobbies, gas and clothing, may change from one month to the next. You can spend less on variables by making lifestyle adjustments.

Estimate the Monthly Cost of Each Item

In your budgeting sheet, estimate and write down the average cost of each expense. This should be an easy task for your fixed expenses. For variable expenses, however, you can use past bank statements as a guide.

You can then calculate your total expenses in each category—fixed and variable. Then, merge the fixed and variable costs to determine your average monthly expenses.

Compare Income vs. Expenses

Comparing your monthly expenses to your net income can help you understand if you’re living within your means or running a deficit. Start by deducting your total expense from your net income. If the result is a negative number, you’re spending more than you earn and possibly accruing debt. However, if your income equals or exceeds your expenses, you may at least be able to break even.

If you spend more than you make in a month, you can adjust your spending habits by cutting back on some wants, which mostly fall under variable expenses.

An alternative is to increase your net income by working more hours, applying for more grants or asking your sponsors for extra money. Overall, making lifestyle changes or earning more can help you live comfortably in college.

8 Budgeting Apps for College Students

A handy budgeting app can help keep you accountable and organized as you create a college budget. Consider these options.


Cost: $3 per month for individuals; $9 per month for families
App Overview: Acorns offers free guides on budgeting and investing. However, its most popular feature is the “round-up” under a paid plan, which automatically helps users build wealth by channeling the surplus from each purchase to a specified investment portfolio.


Cost: $9.99–$14.99 per month
App Overview: Albert is a financial monitoring tool that allows college students (and all users) to track their spending, analyze spending habits and create monthly budgets. Albert acts as an all-in-one platform for budgeting, saving and investing.


Cost: $17.99 per month; $79.99 per year
App Overview: EveryDollar provides users on the free plan with access to a customizable budget template and automatic savings. However, only premium users can access advanced features like financial coaching and custom budget reports.


Cost: $10 per month; $80 per year
App Overview: Goodbudget modernizes the traditional “envelope” budgeting method. Through this platform, you can categorize your expenses into separate digital envelopes and label them according to their purpose (for example, “rent,” “groceries” and “insurance”). This allows you to track your spending and make better financial decisions in the long run.


Cost: $12.99 per month, $74.99 per year
App Overview: Apart from access to budgeting tools, PocketGuard offers comprehensive reporting on users’ cash flow and spending habits. With this tool’s ample data, overspenders can analyze their budgets to eliminate unnecessary costs.


Cost: Free
App Overview: Rakuten allows users to earn cash back for online and in-store shopping. Aside from saving money through shopping benefits, users earn a welcome bonus and referral rewards.


Cost: Free
App Overview: Wally is a fully automated fintech platform with budgeting, tracking and investing features. The platform also offers personalized action plans for any financial goal.


Cost: $14.99 per month; $99 per year
App Overview: The idea behind YNAB (You Need a Budget) is to make the most of every dollar. This app empowers users with financial responsibility through customizable budgets, loan planners and spending reports. To make budgeting more fun, you can share your YNAB subscription with roommates and siblings who also want to manage their finances better.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About College Budgets

What is a good college budget?

A good college budget prioritizes needs and savings over wants. A good template to follow when budgeting is the 50-30-20 ratio—50% of your income covers needs, 30% goes toward wants and 20% is for savings. This format can guide you in creating your next spending plan.

How much should a college student spend per month?

What a college student spends per month depends on their net income. A good rule of thumb is to ensure your expenses add up to less than your earnings; this will help you live within your means.

What is a reasonable budget for a college student?

Budgeting is a personalized process. A “reasonable” budget varies from student to student and depends on what each person can afford to spend in a given period.

How do I make a monthly college budget?

You can make a monthly college budget by creating a worksheet through Microsoft or Google. You can also use affordable budgeting apps like EveryDollar, Acorns or Wally to track your spending and allocate monthly expenses.

How To Make A Better College Budget: Tips And Resources (2024)
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