Students & New Graduates Can Learn a
Thing or Two About Budgeting from This Guy

College student Blake Chelf says careful – and realistic – financial planning allows him to splurge on the fun things while saving for the future

There are more than 700 driving miles between Lexington, Ky. and Jacksonville, Fla. Factor in food, hotels and tickets to the game and it equals a trip that would put many student budgets in the red.

University of Kentucky Finance major Blake Chelf doesn’t budget like many college students, though. So when the Wildcats qualified for a Florida football bowl game, he and his twin brother were in attendance – a financial achievement he had planned for.

Chelf’s budgeting achievement was the culmination of careful planning and a lifestyle of financial discipline. A full-time student, his income is limited to wages from a paid internship and a stipend he receives for his service in the U.S. Army Reserve. Chelf is responsible for his own school and living expenses too.

“I’ve had to pay for school and other things, but the Army has helped instill a bit of responsibility,” Chelf said.

I don’t want to be living paycheck to paycheck or on the fly. I want to be able to go on vacations, or go out to eat when I want.

Chelf admits that his money habits are not commonplace and have even opened him up for good-natured ribbing from friends. Still, he said, he’s been asked by others to help create a budgeting model for their limited student income.

“I think there’s a middle ground,” Chelf said. “I know a lot of people my age aren’t taking budgeting seriously enough, but I probably think about it too much.”

What tips does he have for those looking to budget on a student or entry-level income?

1. Build a longer-term forecast of income and expenses

Map out fixed expenses like rent or loan payments and compare them to an income projection. To the extent possible, try to forecast them out three to six months in advance.

For example, Chelf factors in his fixed income from the Army and the fact that he works between 20-24 hours a week at a paid internship. It allows him to project his monthly income within $25-30 in advance of each month.

“There are times I need to cut back at work to prepare for exams, so I really have to think about how that impacts my income,” Chelf said. “If I need to take a week away from work, that’s one week without pay.”

2. Budget expenses in average amounts

When factoring variable expenses, like utilities, find the monthly average expense; add $5-10 to that amount and budget for that. The additional $5-10 will help compensate in the event of a bill outside of the average range.

3. Set a goal to pay yourself

With minimal income, saving can be hard. When possible, establish an amount or percentage goal for saving – even if it’s just a little. The savings can provide a head start toward future expenses.

Chelf’s goal is to save 40-50 percent of his monthly net income. In addition to luxuries like the football trip, he’s using it to build a cushion for post-graduation expenses. 

“Some people don’t think about non-recurring expenses like insurance, moving costs or emergency needs,” Chelf said. “It’s nice to have a jump on budgeting for those things once I have the extra commitment of working full time.”

4. Stay organized with digital tools

Be diligent about recording your financial footprint. Use online and mobile financial management tools to track spending and saving. This can help refine a budget and prevent overspending by identifying monthly spending trends. Many banking tools that can be accessed online or by mobile device – like PNC Virtual Wallet®[1] – can help with savings goals by automating transfers to a savings account on a set schedule. 

5. Create a plan & commit to staying on track

One of the most important parts of any budgeting plan is committing to follow it. Being disciplined can mean short-term sacrifices, but longer-term rewards.

For Chelf, budgeting is a hobby and necessity, but may also be a component of a future career. As he closes in on his degree, he’s looking ahead at a potential future in financial planning – with the hope of helping others achieve their big game moment.

If I don’t pay the bill, I’m not going to have utilities or a car. I’d like to help others make those right decisions so they can enjoy things too.


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Blake Chelf
College student Blake Chelf shares five budgeting tips that help keep him on track and allow him to enjoy those fun, but sometimes costly, college experiences.

You have to have patience and diligence to stick to the plan. It can be hard sometimes to balance what I want to do with the things that realistically work within my budget.
-Blake Chelf

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