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Saving on Schooling: Slick Tips to Stick to a Budget in College

William Frierson AvatarWilliam Frierson
April 9, 2015

Chalkboard with "Budget" written on it.

Chalkboard with “Budget” written on it. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Who has the time and energy to work, earn money, and study while attending college? Here are some slick tips to help you stick to a budget in college and give you a leg up when it comes to figuring out first time finances.

Write a Budget
You listed expenses and income, set priorities in case funds run short, and allocated an amount to each item, right? If not, do this today. Use free, online budget software and worksheets you can download, or make your own.
Account for expenses students often overlook:
Tithing and charitable contributions.
Auto maintenance and repair.
Savings – List as an expense each pay period. Use only for planned purchases like books or travel home.
Gifts, cards – Don’t be robbed of the joy of giving.
Emergency savings – Covers out-of-pocket expenses like ER co-pays, major car repairs, or a lawyer should you need help fighting traffic tickets, for example, but not that college students are ever in a hurry, of course.
Fun money – a set amount to spend as you please.

Track and Adjust
Keep tabs on your spending and saving. Setbacks come, but don’t indulge them as end-of-the-world excuses to abandon your budget. Write transactions in one place instead of juggling separate statements and scrolling screens. Get the big picture by using a checkbook register to record all non-cash transactions as they occur. Use the Check Number column to indicate other sources such as Web Pay, VISA, MC, check by phone, debit, ATM, or transfers.

Prevention Costs Less
Plan healthy meals. Schedule sleep, keep fit, and socialize offline to support well-being and quell impulse spending. Self-help for minor injuries and common ailments abounds online and at pharmacies. Look it up. Ask for help. Dollar stores are not necessarily cheaper either. Purchase a month’s supply of generics and buy soup on sale elsewhere. Avoid withdrawing from school to recuperate at home when campus resources offer free support coping with issues like anxiety, depression, anorexia, and ADD. Do not live off grant money intended for tuition, but apply it immediately. If you have been injured you might even be eligible for personal injury related scholarships so don’t let your health get in the way of your education no matter what.

Habit is Stronger than Willpower Alone
Pay cash for expenses whenever possible so you can see where your money goes. Credit cards are high-interest loans and not must-have financing. Unused credit limits are considered liabilities when you apply for loans.

Temptations will come, but as financial planner Dave Ramsey says, if you will live like no one else now, you can live like no one else later. By disciplining yourself in the present, you will be ready to just say no or find workarounds to say yes without compromising the integrity of your budget.


Brooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most her time hiking, biking and gardening. For more information contact Brooke via Twitter @BrookeChaplan.

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