By Rob Deleeuw
Planning your finances during college can be overwhelming. After paying your tuition for any given school year, it may feel as if you have little money to spare on other necessities. However, with proactive planning and budgeting, you may find that you can manage your bills and expenses with ease, and you might have some extra cash to save for emergencies.
First, take note of all income that you expect to have at the beginning of each school year. This includes student loans, grants, side jobs, tuition assistance or reimbursement, savings, and/or any allowances you may receive.
Next, outline each expense that you know you will incur during the school year. Below is an example list. Keep in mind that some of these may not be applicable to your current financial situation:
- Rent/dorm room
- Utilities: electricity, water, gas, TV/cable
- Groceries and/or on-campus meal plan
- Car payment
- Entertainment – going out, movies, sports games, concerts
- Savings plan – recommended for unexpected life events or emergencies that may come up
- Cell phone
- Car insurance
- Credit card payments
Now that you have your list in mind, put an estimated cost per month next to each expense. Remember, some of your expenses will be fixed expenses (car payment, rent, etc.) and some of your expenses will be varied – such as gas, entertainment, and groceries.
It is strongly recommended that you use some type of tracking method for your budget. An Excel spreadsheet is a great way to keep tabs of your expenses – you can set it up for the year and break down your expenses into monthly tabs. Or, if you’re partial to your smartphone, there are a handful of free budgeting applications available for your use. Check your smartphone’s App Store to find a free app to track your finances.
Step back and take a long look at your budget. If your expenses are higher than your income, it’s time to take a closer look at your variable expenses. Are your trips going out-of-town or going home costing you too much in gas? Consider carpooling or cutting back on trips to save money. It’s important to cut back on expenses where you can, as this will help you live within your means.
As mentioned earlier, it is encouraged to have some type of savings plan in place for any unexpected emergencies. If you have any part-time jobs, consider setting a goal to save a certain percentage of your paycheck to put into a savings account. Start at a low percentage goal (i.e. 5% of your paycheck) for a few months until you’re in a good spot to increase your savings goal.
Lastly, be sure to review your budget on a monthly basis. Keep track of your expenses and make sure to cut back when necessary. Following and sticking to a monthly budget will set you up for financial success not only in college, but also in the long-term.
Rob Deleeuw is a 26 year old graduate from the University of Missouri with a BS in Personal Financial Management Services. He currently resides in Kansas City, and works for Veterans United Home Loans as a Processing Team Manager in Lenexa, KS. Rob served as both a Financial Counselor and Treasurer for the Office for Financial Success in 2010.