Now that you’re in college, it’s time to talk about the B word: Budgeting. But don’t worry: Creating a budget doesn’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t have to mean saying “no” to everything fun. In fact, a budget can help make sure you have money left over for spending after you meet your financial obligations every month.
Here are five easy steps to help you build a college budget:
1. Create a Budget Worksheet
Your budget shouldn’t live just in your head. You need to create an actual document, electronic or handwritten, to serve as a budget worksheet that you can update again and again. You may find a college budget template you like online, or you can create a simple spreadsheet yourself. List income and expenses down the left-hand side and then have columns across the top for breaking out your weekly, monthly, semester and annual finances.
2. Understand How Much You Have
Start by listing your income sources and the dollar amounts you expect from each. Be sure to include:
- Financial aid (scholarships, grants and student loans)
- Your pay, if you have a part-time job
- Money your family has committed to giving you
- Money from any other sources
Add these dollar amounts to come up with a total. That’s the amount you have to work with. (Remember that financial aid is often earmarked for certain education costs such as tuition, books and student housing.)
3. Categorize and Detail Your Expenses
Now make a list of your monthly expenses and savings goals. If you don’t have statements that break down your college costs (tuition, textbooks, student fees and housing), you can refer to your school’s website or financial aid office. For your personal expenses, recent bank statements may help you pin down how much you spend on things each month.
Items to Budget For - No two budgets are exactly alike, but here are some common categories for college budgets:
- Tuition and student fees
- Textbooks and class supplies
- Haircuts and personal items
- Emergency fund
- Entertainment/Fun money
4. Do the Math and Adjust Your Budget
Once you have totaled your expenses, subtract that number from your monthly income. If you have money left, you may want to add it to your savings and emergency fund. If you don’t have enough income to cover your expenses and savings goals, you will need to examine your expenses closely to see where you might cut back. This is a good time to ask yourself, “Is that expense for something I want or something I need?” Wants are easy to cut back on; needs are not.
This interactive PNC My Finance Academy Student Budget Calculator can help you organize, adjust and tally your expenses. Give it a try!
5. Track Your Spending
Now that you have a budget, be sure to record your actual expenses as you go about your life. A budgeting app or small notebook can help you get into the habit. When you compare your spending to your budget, it’s easy to see where you may be overspending so you can make adjustments to your behaviors — or to your budget. Making regular adjustments and updates to your budget is a smart way to keep your spending and saving on track.
Remember: Your budget is a tool that can help you reach your financial goals throughout your life. Create yours now to start steering your finances where you want them to go!