Money Talks, So Should You

Q&A: How can college students budget?

Tracy St. John
by Tracy St. John, The Garrett Network  (@FinancialAvenue)

As college students, most probably don’t want to go through the process of living on a budget.

However, a budget is often a college reality. However, don’t despair if this scenario is going to be yours, as there are things you can do before college starts or within the first few months to be on track financially.

READ: What are the most common money mistakes made by college students?

Consider the following:

1. How will you receive income? Part-time job? Parents? Student loans?

2. Compare how often you will receive income to the timing of your expenses.

3. Create a list of everything you really need. Then, go back through and seriously ask yourself, “Do I need this to live or survive?” If the answer is yes, it is a need. If the answer is no, it is something you want.

List all of your expenses. Some typical items will be:

  • Food
  • Gas
  • School activity fees or club fees
  • Living expenses for dorm or apartment
  • Phone
  • Car insurance
  • Entertainment

4. Are you going to college in another town or state and be traveling home frequently or just during holidays? Have an idea of how many possible trips you will have and estimate the gas and food costs.

5. If you get a student meal plan at school, how much of the time will you use it and to what extent will you choose to eat out?

6. Will you drive to get to classes or walk? When going out with friends, will you offer to drive all the time or will you ride with others? Estimate how much gas money you will need.

7. Monitor your spending. Developing a habit and a specific way of tracking your money needs to become the norm. By using something like or even an Excel spreadsheet (there are some great budgeting ones on, you will have a clear sense of where your money is going.

8. Always set aside a portion of your income in savings. Develop this habit now, and it will continue throughout your life. A great way to do this is to have an automatic transfer set up a day or two after you receive a paycheck. It sends the designated amount straight to a savings account.

READ: Should a college student have a credit card?

If you take the time to answer the above questions and come up with your own strategy for tracking your income and expenses, you will be more financially aware which, in turn, will create smarter financial decisions. And, developing these habits in college will positively impact your financial success in life.


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Tracy St. John is the founder of Financial Avenues, LLC, a Fee-Only financial planning and investment advisory firm. She obtained her Masters Degree in Family Financial Planning as well as a Certificate in Personal Financial Planning through Kansas State University.