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Building Your College Budget

You’ve sent in your applications, completed FAFSA, decided on a school, and have your move-in date – now what? Before rushing off to college, sit down and think about any financial goals you may have. One great place to start is thinking about building a budget.

Knowing how to build a budget is a skill you can use at any point in life. You’ll be able to see how much you’re spending in comparison to how much money you are making or have saved up so you can effectively spend.

Understanding a Budget

There are three rules to follow when thinking about or creating your budget:

  1. A budget is really just a simple equation. Your budget is simply Income – Savings – Expenses = 0. The goal is to make your expenses less than your income so the rest can be put into savings.
  2. Save a set percentage of any money you earn or receive. Birthday check from grandma? Extra money from dogsitting? No matter what additional income you get, decide on a percentage you can set aside to savings each time. While you shouldn’t include these items in your monthly spending budget, it’s important to know what you want to save out of them to avoid spending the whole amount.
  3. Recognize the difference between needs and wants. A want is something that would be nice to have, but you’re not willing to sacrifice something else for it. A need is something you are willing to sacrifice other things for. The goal of your budget is to fulfill all your needs and then a couple wants.
Implementing Your Budget
Determine Where You Are Now

To get started, you’ll need to identify your net income. Your net income is what you get paid after taxes and deductions are taken out.

If you don’t have a source of income from a job in college, check with your parents if you’ll be receiving an allowance. If you’re using money from savings, decide how much you’ll be using per month. The goal here is to see where your source of income is and how much it will be.

Organize and Plan

In high school, you probably didn’t have many expenses so your budget might start small. If there aren’t enough expenses to break down into sections, you can say you just have a certain amount to spend during the time period you are budgeting.

Decide how you want to keep track of your budget. You can use this worksheet, a personal finance management app, or even use a budget notebook. It’s okay to try multiple options to see what works best for you – but once you find your favorite, stick with it.

Implement

Next step – implement. Make sure you’re documenting what you’re spending and your income to accurately reflect your finances.

Modify

Lastly, it’s time to modify. Decide what needs to change in the process of budgeting or how you can cut back on spending in a certain area. If you find you aren’t spending all of the money you’ve allocated, you can always save more and if you’re spending more, evaluate your choices.

Worksheets

Spending Tracker Budget

Use this to track your spending for a few weeks to see your purchasing habits. Once you have a better idea of what you’re spending looks like, use the trackers to create a bigger budget.

Building Your College Budget Worksheet

This worksheet will go into detail what you will be spending down the road in college, including groceries, transportation expenses, and tuition. Use this as a guide for the next worksheet.

College Budget Worksheet

Use this to plan your actual budget and to keep track of your spending. You can use it on a monthly or weekly basis or whatever time frame you prefer.

College Credit Card 101

Having a good credit score is important in today’s credit-oriented world, and the sooner you can start building a great credit score, the better. Many credit card companies will market specific college student cards to people in college to help them build credit with a low limit.

Working on building a good credit score will help you immensely when you graduate, like when you’re searching for an apartment, getting a car loan, applying for a mortgage, or even finding a job. Some employers will check your credit score during the hiring process and use it in their decision making.

What is Credit Anyways?

Using credit means you are borrowing money from an issuer, whether it’s a bank, credit union, or other financial initiation, and promising to repay it in a timely manner. Loans typically have a set payment amount each month, but credit card payments will depend on your credit limit and how much you’ve spent of that limit. Your credit limit will determine how much you have to spend each month.

If you don’t make each payment in full, the remaining sum will move to next month’s bill with additional interest. If you continue to not pay the balance in full, interest will continue adding up.

Finding the Perfect Card

The hard part about finding a credit card without already established credit is finding a credit issuer to allow you to borrow. If none of the cards you find work for you or if you aren’t approved, consider applying for a line of credit or signature loan. These loans will quickly build and establish your credit.

Here are a few things to consider when choosing a card:

  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR): This will be the interest rate you are charged on any balance that carries over. Look for a lower rate so you will be charged less interest on your balances.
  • Credit limit: The credit limit is how much you have available to borrow in total. Having a higher limit is better for your credit score overall, but for easier spending and as a first card, you might want to consider one with a lower limit.
  • Grace period: The grace period is the number of days to pay back what you owe or at the very least make a minimum payment.
  • Fees: Most credit card companies will charge you if you’re late on your payment, but some also charge an annual fee or application fee. It’s best to avoid cards that have additional fees that work against you.

Look for credit cards that are specifically offered for college students. They’ll often have cash back and help you build your credit in a safe way. Many will also offer it to you even if you don’t have credit already.

Avoid Overspending

Try to establish a ‘credit card code’ for yourself so you don’t get carried away with purchases. For example, only use it for your grocery purchases and music subscription service, that way you have an estimate of how much you’ll be spending each month.

It’s also a good idea to set a monetary limit for yourself so you don’t overspend and can pay the balance off every month. Many credit cards offer text alerts or push notifications to tell you when you’ve reached a certain dollar amount.