Figuring out how to budget as a college student can feel daunting, especially with the cost of tuition, textbooks, and other necessities, it can feel like your pockets are always empty. One way to ensure you’re making the most of your money is to create a budget. But with so many different types of budgets out there, it can be hard to know which one is right for you. Never fear! We’ve compiled a list of the best types of budgets for college students, so you can make sure your money is going where it needs to go.
1. The Envelope Method
This is a great budgeting method for people who like to be able to see their cash on hand. Essentially, you’ll designate different envelopes for different expenses (for example, one envelope for food, one for entertainment, etc.) and put the cash you plan on spending in those envelopes. Once the cash is gone, it’s gone—no dipping into other envelopes! This method can help you curb impulse spending and make you more mindful of where your money is going.
2. The Pay Yourself First Budget
The Pay Yourself First budget is perfect for college students who are looking to get a jump-start on their savings. With this type of budget, you’ll set aside a certain percentage of your income (usually 10-15%) into savings as soon as you get paid. That way, you’ll have some money set aside in case of an emergency or if you want to splurge on something special. Plus, it’s always nice to know that you have a little nest egg waiting for you once graduation rolls around.
3. The 50/30/20 Rule
The 50/30/20 rule is pretty simple: 50% of your income goes towards essentials like rent and groceries, 30% goes towards wants like entertainment and nights out, and 20% goes towards savings and debt repayment. This is a good method for people who want to make sure they’re allocating enough money towards both their immediate needs and their future goals.
4. Zero-based Budgeting
Zero-based budgeting may sound complicated but it’s actually pretty straightforward: at the end of each month, your income and expenses should match up so that you have a “zero balance.” This means that every dollar has been allocated towards an expense—there are no “leftover” funds that haven’t been accounted for. This can be a helpful method if you find yourself feeling like you never have enough money or if you frequently overspend.
Here’s how to start budgeting (Without Going Crazy)
Know your income.
This one might seem obvious, but it’s important to have a clear understanding of how much money you have coming in every month. If you work a part-time job or have scholarships and grants, be sure to take those into account. Once you know your monthly income, you can start thinking about how to allocate your funds.
Make a list of your expenses.
This is where things can get a little tricky. You need to think about all the things you spend money on in a given month – and we’re not just talking about the big items like tuition and rent. Don’t forget to factor in smaller expenses like groceries, entertainment, and transportation costs. Once you have a comprehensive list of your expenses, you can start finding ways to cut back.
Need help figuring this out? Track Your Spending for a Month (or More)
For at least a month (I like to recommend three), carry around a small notebook and write down every single purchase you make. Yes, every single one. That $2 cup of coffee from Starbucks? Write it down. The $15 pair of earrings you bought on a whim? Write it down. It may seem tedious, but this exercise will give you some much-needed clarity on your spending habits.
After you’ve been tracking your spending for awhile, take a good look at the numbers and see where you can cut back. Maybe you’ll find that you’re spending way too much money on eating out, or that you need to reign in your shopping habit. Whatever the case may be, use this information to help inform your budget.
Create Some Parameters for Your Spending
Now that you have a better idea of where your money is going, it’s time to start setting some limits. Begin by evaluating your fixed costs—these are the expenses that stay relatively consistent month-to-month, such as tuition, rent, and insurance premiums. Once you’ve done that, create subsections for things like food, entertainment, and personal care items. From there, determine how much money you realistically need to spend in each category every month.
Stick to Your Budget…Mostly
At this point, it’s time to start following your budget—but that doesn’t mean being rigid about every single little purchase. unexpected expenses pop up occasionally (hey, life happens), and when they do, don’t beat yourself up about occasionally dipping into another category to cover the cost. Just try to make those occasions the exception rather than the rule.
Conclusion: Creating and following a budget may not be the most fun task in the world, but it’s definitely worth it—especially if you’re a college student who wants to set themselves up for financial success later on down the road. So don’t be discouraged! Use this guide as a starting point and budgeting will quickly become second nature before you know it!
There’s no wrong way to budget, as long as it feels right to you, because at the end of the day, the most important thing is that you start somewhere! If you’re not sure where to begin, try out a couple of different methods and see which one works best for you. And remember—budgeting is a marathon, not a sprint! Take things one step at a time and eventually you’ll get the hang of it!