Want to Save Money in College? Set a Budget

Tips include choosing a method, setting categories, determining spending limits, being realistic, and adjusting as needed.
A student working on their budget

When you're in college, every penny counts. So it's important to keep track of your money and be smart about your spending. In today's world, it's easy to swipe a credit card or flash a smart phone to make a purchase, so it's especially important to be mindful as you spend. The best way to keep track of what and when you buy, and to set yourself parameters, is to create a budget. Technology makes it easy to track your finances, and seeing your budget in print can help remind you to remain within your limits. Follow our checklist below to get started.

  1. Choose a method. You can use an Excel document, an online program such as, a phone app such as You Need A Budget, or the old standby, paper and pencil.
  2. Set your categories. Determine your major areas of spending. These usually include rent & utilities, groceries, going out, car or public transportation costs, clothes, and a phone plan, but include anything else that's relevant to you such as hobbies, gifts, fitness, personal care, and travel.
  3. Determine your spending limits. Decide how much you want to spend within the categories you select above. If you're not sure how much you generally spend on a category, track your purchases for a month or two.
  4. Be frugal yet realistic. You might be living off of your summer savings while in college, or a small part-time job, so set your budget low, recognizing that you can have a more lavish lifestyle when you graduate and work a full-time job. But be realistic. You do need to eat, pay for school expenses such as notebooks and lab supplies, and get yourself around campus and town.
  5. Adjust. Try out your budget for a month or two and then check in to see if you need to tweak anything. You might be able to decrease your spending limit for one category, or you may need to add a few dollars to another.
  6. If needed, increase your income. Once you set your budget, if you find yourself exceeding your spending limits each month, increase your income. You can complete surveys online, sell some of your items on Craigslist or eBay, or check with your school's student employment office for one-off jobs.
  7. Stick to it. Though following a budget is often hard at first, you'll get used to it, and may even learn to enjoy it, once you make it a habit. Reward yourself each month that you stay within your spending limits with a free gift to yourself, such as a phone call to a good friend or an afternoon nap in the sun.

As you track your spending and monitor the ebb and flow of your finances, you'll be developing a great skill that will benefit you for the rest of your life. Keep yourself accountable, don't be too hard on yourself when you miss the mark, and stay loyal to your goals. You'll be glad you did!  

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