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Budgeting for College Students: Save Money and Cut Expenses

Posted by MoneyKey on October 8, 2019
graduating college students throwing hats in the air

Heading off to college can be an exciting time. You’re turning the page on one era of your life and venturing off into another. But there’s a lot of change that comes with being a new student, some of it good, and some of it more challenging. There’s the excitement of meeting new people, finding out what you’re passionate about, and the independence that comes with being on your own. But along with that independence comes a lot of responsibilities that may be new to you.  

One of the things you might have to start managing yourself is your finances. For a lot of college students, this will be the first time they have to deal with rent, bills, groceries, and all sorts of other expenses that they may not have had to deal with in the past. This might be overwhelming if you haven’t had to handle any of these things before. But don’t panic! There are plenty of college budgeting tips out there to help.

So, how can college students budget to save money and cut expenses? One of the best ways to manage this is to put together a realistic budget for college students. Your budget should track your rent, utilities, food, transportation, school supplies, and more.

If it’s easier for you to have a more visual representation of your budget, you might want to track your expenses in a budget calendar. But what is a budget calendar? Check out our guide to learn more!

Budgeting for college students isn’t always easy, so we’re going to break down some of the key components for you.

What College Students Need to Consider in a Budget

When you first start putting together your budget, you’re going to want to do your best to predict certain expenses like your cost of living, transportation, the cost of textbooks, and more.

coffee mug next to notepad that someone is creating a college budget on

You can start calculating big portions of your cost of living by starting with your rent and utilities. While there may be some variance in certain utility bills, things like your rent, internet bill, and phone bill will stay fairly static throughout the year, so you can start incorporating these costs into your budget ahead of time. Certain bills like hydro and water might change a bit more from month to month, but after two or three months, you’ll likely have a better idea of the general cost of these bills.

Typical College Student Expenditures

There are a number of different expenses that you may have to consider as a college student. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest ones.

Rent and Utilities

When it comes time to start looking into what living arrangements are out there for you, the key is to weigh all of the options you have in front of you. You’ll need to get start by getting an idea of what the cost of rent would be around your school, and then compare this to the cost of living on campus (assuming that’s an option available to you). Whether you end up living in a house/apartment or staying on campus, your living arrangement will likely end up being one of your biggest expenses.

Not only will you have to deal with the cost of rent, but you’ll also need to consider the cost of utilities. This can include things like water, gas, electricity, internet, and cable. You generally won’t have to worry about these things if you’re living in a dorm on campus, but if you’re out there on your own, you’ll need to account for these things when you’re putting together a realistic budget.

One thing that may help you cut back on all these expenses is to get some roommates to share these costs with. You’ll be able to split the costs of rent and utilities instead of shouldering all of these things on your own.

Whether you have roommates or not, you’re going to want to shop around for the best deals when you’re setting up your utilities. Get quotes from different companies and look out for any student deals that may be going on. You’ll also want to evaluate your needs to make sure you’re not spending money on things you don’t actually need.

For example, the average cost of cable in the U.S. in 2018 was $107 per month, but do you really need to be spending this money when there are plenty of cheap cable alternatives out there?

If you’re interested in more ways to save, check out these tips on how to save on utility bills.

Food and Transportation

Another big area to consider when budgeting for college students is food. If you’re living on campus, you may be paying for a meal plan through your school. But if not, you’re going to have to pay close attention to your food costs and look for ways to keep them low.

bananas at a grocery store

This starts with being smart at the grocery store and trying to cook at home as much as possible. You’re going to want to make sure you put together a meal plan, make a shopping list, and stick to that list. To help you save on groceries, you should also:

  • Schedule a day to cook
  • Avoid shopping when you’re hungry
  • Plan to have leftovers
  • Choose generic brands
  • Buy produce that’s in season
  • Cook meat carefully

Another big expense, particularly for those living far from campus, is the cost of transportation. While some people may get around on foot for the most part, if you’re looking at a long commute, you may need to drive.

Whether you buy or lease a car, you’ll need to incorporate the cost of driving into your budget. You’ll need to include the cost of gas, insurance, regular maintenance, and any repairs that may come up along the way.

These expenses can be significant, so if you’re looking to cut back on some of them and want to learn more about things like how to save on car insurance, do some research to see how you can cut back on car expenses.

Textbooks and School Supplies

When you get your syllabus for each class in college, there’ll often be a list of textbooks you’ll need for that class, and unfortunately, these often don’t come cheap. While considering these costs is an important part of budgeting for college students, there are things you can do that may help you lower the amount you spend on textbooks for the year.

Start by seeing if you can rent these textbooks to avoid having to buy them at all. If the textbooks you need aren’t available for rent, see if you can find these books used instead of having to buy them new from your school’s bookstore. You can also see if your school has any Facebook groups designated for buying and selling textbooks.

College Student Income

When you’re putting together a realistic budget for a college student, it’s not all about keeping track of your expenses. You’ll also need to incorporate the money you have coming from things like student loans, grants, scholarships, personal loans, and student employment. Consider things like:

  • How much of your tuition will be paid for by scholarships and grants
  • The number of hours you work at your part-time job every month
  • How much money you have coming in from student loans, and the cost of paying these loans back

college student with a part-time job as a bartender

1. Student Loans, Grants, and Scholarships

When it comes to scholarships, grants, and student loans, it’s important for you to understand the differences:

  • Scholarships are generally given based on merit (academic, athletic, etc.) and don’t need to be paid back.
  • Grants are generally given out based on need from either the federal or state government. To see if you may qualify for a grant, you can submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
  • Student loans are given by certain financial institutions as well as the government, and this is money you borrow that is meant to help you pay for your education. They often come at lower costs than certain other loans. The cost of interest may be fixed and partially subsidized in some cases.

2. Personal Loans

When your money is tied up in rent, bills, groceries, textbooks, and school expenses, you may not have much money left over for any emergencies that may pop up. If an unexpected emergency expense like an unforeseen medical bill or car repair comes up and you don’t have the savings to deal with it, online loans with monthly payments may be able to help. If you do end up taking out a personal loan, you’ll need to make sure you incorporate your loan payments into your budget.

3. Student Employment

If you’re a student and you need help paying for your education and living expenses, a part-time job may be what you need to help you get by. Finding a job on campus may be ideal if you’re looking for an employer that is comfortable accommodating your school schedule, but you may also be able to find employers off-campus that are willing to do the same – especially if you’re living in a college town where businesses are used to employing students during the school year.

Creating a Student Budget

Going off to college can one of the most exciting times in your life, but it’s important to remember that your education likely won’t be cheap. If you want to get through these student years, you’re likely going to need to be very careful with how you spend your money. Make sure you put together a realistic college student budget, and incorporate things like:

  • Rent and utilities
  • Transportation
  • Food
  • School supplies

You’ll also need to know what financial options you have at your disposal like scholarships, grants, and student loans, and you’ll need to understand the differences between them.

And remember, if you find yourself in the midst of an unexpected financial emergency and you don’t have the savings to help you cover costs, an online installment loan with MoneyKey may be able to help. These loans are meant to help you out of unexpected financial emergencies and have payments that are spread out over the span of several months.

If you want more information, click to learn more about installment loans online!


Disclaimer: This article provides general information only and does not constitute financial, legal or other professional advice. For full details, see MoneyKey's Terms of Use.

Posted in: Lifestyle

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