Have a Child Heading to College?
Time for Budgeting 101

Budgeting can be difficult for a broke college student, but that is when it’s even more important. And it can be done by following five simple steps.  

The dorm room is decked out and tuition is paid but there’s still a nagging feeling that something has been forgotten. Chances are, it’s that the child going away to college may not know how to create and live within a budget.

It’s an easy task to miss. For a student, their parents have always been there to handle expenses. And their parents have obliged, perhaps forgetting to teach their child what things really cost and how to stretch a dollar. Thankfully, it’s a problem that’s easy to overcome with five simple steps, according to Drew Martin, Northern Ohio retail market manager for PNC.

illustration of college students using mobile phones
  • Talk it Out: Parents should have an honest conversation with their children about how much they can or are willing to contribute to the child’s income while in college. Figure out exactly how much money the child will have coming in, and from what sources, each month.
  • Help Prioritize: Fancy coffees and organic vegetables are expensive. Recommend they find products that are less of a strain on their budget. For example, encourage brewing coffee at home and carrying it to class in a travel mug.
  • Track Spending: Have your student keep an itemized list of everything they spend each month. This will help them understand where their money goes and what purchases they need to cut out of their routine. Though it’s best to practice this exercise before heading off to college, it’s never too late to start. “I actually did this exercise before I went to college and it was a real eye-opener,” Martin said.
  • Be Flexible: A budget sounds scary and it can seem like an insurmountable task, but realize that mistakes will be made and, when they are, the student shouldn’t get discouraged. Just change the plan, Martin said. “A budget isn’t so much about a plan set in stone, it’s about adapting the plan and learning from it.”
  • Encourage Honesty: Many students often make the mistake of creating a budget that they think they should follow, instead of a budget that actually fits their lifestyle. If the student knows he likes going to movies, ordering late-night pizza or going out with friends, he should budget for them. Some other luxuries might need to be given up, but it comes back to prioritizing what’s important to the individual. That will go a long way toward ensuring that the budgeting plan is realistic and successful.

Pop Quiz: Help Them Prepare for the Unexpected

Following the five steps above will help students live within their means, but it’s not a foolproof framework, Martin said. While some students are realistic about the cost of groceries and even factor in items such as cell phone fees and utility costs, many forget about the most basic items that they’re used to having around the house - items such as toilet paper, soap and light bulbs.

Forgetting about sundries is common for college students, so Martin advises students to pay attention to the items they use every day and factor them into the budget. It’s important to also budget for unforeseen expenses such as a cracked cell phone. This will help them avoid that distress call to parents, asking for more money.

“Living on a budget sounds scary at first, but once the student gets used to it, following these steps will help them live within their means now and set them up for a more financially stable future,” Martin said.


Visit PNC’s Student Center for resources that help students and families from college prep to career »


Drew Martin
Drew Martin is a Northern Ohio retail market manager.

Online banking tools, such as PNC’s Virtual Wallet® Student, can help monitor spending. The 'Danger Days(SM)' feature shows up on your Calendar when your Spend account is at risk of being overdrawn, prompting the student to deposit or transfer money[1], or reconsider that next purchase.

PNC Point of View
Real People. Real Perspective. Real Insights.
Read more POV Stories »

Important Legal Disclosures & Information

  1. Transaction fees will apply to your account if you exceed six (6) Restricted Transfers in a monthly service charge period. Restricted Transfers are transfers from a savings or money market account to other accounts (including transfers to another account for overdraft protection) or to third parties by check, through point-of sale purchase transactions or similar debit card transactions, by pre-authorized or automatic agreements, telephone, online or similar order payable to a third person. If you make more than a total of six (6) Restricted Transfers in a monthly service charge period, you will be charged a fee for each Restricted Transfer. See your account agreement and fee schedule for more information. Other limits may apply to your account. We reserve the right to suspend enforcement of these transaction limitations, or to modify them, at our discretion.

Virtual Wallet is a registered mark of The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc.

These articles are for general information purposes only and are not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting or financial advice. PNC urges its customers to do independent research and to consult with financial and legal professionals before making any financial decisions.

This site may provide reference to Internet sites as a convenience to our readers. While PNC endeavors to provide resources that are reputable and safe, we cannot be held responsible for the information, products or services obtained on such sites and will not be liable for any damages arising from your access to such sites. The content, accuracy, opinions expressed and links provided by these resources are not investigated, verified, monitored or endorsed by PNC.

Read a summary of privacy rights for California residents which outlines the types of information we collect, and how and why we use that information.