How to Create a College Budget

By Lindsey Smith

If you’re anything like me at age 18, you did not think very hard about creating a budget plan before going to college. Maybe you figured you could just get a job and figure it out from there or maybe you were too overwhelmed by the entire budgeting process. Either way, you might now find yourself facing an empty bank account and have no idea where it all went wrong.

Now, it doesn’t matter if you’re just entering college or if you’re a few years in. You can still make changes to your spending habits to ensure you have money in the bank on graduation day. The first step to creating a healthy financial life for yourself is to create a monthly budget. Depending on what stage of life you’re in, this can look different for you vs. your siblings and even your parents.

However, there’s no need to worry. I’ve done the research for you and found the easiest ways to make and stick to a budget while in college. Take a look.

  1. The first step to creating a budget in college is to figure out your take home income each month. Now, if you’re just heading into college, you probably don’t have a job established yet. No worries. Once you get your class schedule figured out, you can apply for a variety of jobs to help you make some money without having to sacrifice your studies. In fact, most colleges hold part time job fairs for their students to get in touch with local businesses. You can also check out work study jobs that are on campus. You might even find one in your major, helping you learn while you earn. You can also make money online, through something as simple as giving your opinion on movies or tv shows.
  2. Once you’ve figured out your monthly income, grab all the financial documents you can find. This includes any bank statements, credit card bills, pay stubs, 1099s, W2s, and receipts from the past three months. This will help give you an idea of where your money goes every single month. This may seem overwhelming at first, but after a few months, you may discover money you didn’t know you had. Then you’ll be one step closer to financial freedom.
  3. This third step is one of the most important. This is where you determine your short, medium, and long-term financial goals and choose a budget plan. When you’re in college, you might want to save for a spring break trip. This would be a short-term goal. A medium-term goal might be saving for an apartment off campus next year. A long-term goal could be paying off your student loan debt, getting a new car, or even saving for retirement (I know what you’re thinking, but it’s never too early).
  4. Whether it’s your first year in college or your second or third, there are expenses (needs) that happen each month, semester, and year. Making sure you account for these expenses is an important part of creating your college budget.
    • These expenses include books, gas, insurance, and more. You know you will need these things, so make sure there’s enough money for all of them. This may mean cutting down on some of your wants, but you’ll feel better knowing your needs are paid for.
    • It’s easy when thinking about expenses to want to include extra clothing, food (I'm talking about snacks or things outside of your meal plan), and going out as necessities. However, these are wants, not needs. If your budget is feeling tight, it may be time to re-evaluate if you really need to go out every Friday or if you can have a fun night in every once in a while.
  5. Now, after you’ve established your wants and needs, you need to start thinking about saving. This may seem impossible, but it’s important to remember now that you’re here that you’re trying to eliminate as much debt as possible, not add to it. While you’re in college, if you are able to pay any of the smaller yearly or semester fees, including technology fees, activity fees, parking fees, or even meal plans, do it. The less money you have to take out in student loans, the better.
  6. Speaking of savings, make sure every paycheck has a portion saved for future expenses, emergency or otherwise. Whatever these expenses are is up to you. Like I mentioned earlier, you need to establish goals to develop a strong budget. The money you save now can be put directly towards those goals, so it’s important to be honest with yourself about where your money will be best spent and keep it in your savings account until you really need it.
    • It’s never too early to have money squared away because emergencies can happen at any moment. In these pandemic times, you never know when your health could deteriorate or your car could stop working, keeping you from getting to work. Little things can pile up into big expenses, and you don’t want to be caught without a plan.

Still feeling overwhelmed? Don’t worry. All budget plans can seem scary and unmanageable at first, but there’s plenty of apps that can help you stay on track, not to mention your local bankers are always here to help, with information on accounts that will start you on the path to a healthy financial future.


Availa Bank locations are in the following communities: Carroll, Ames, Ankeny, Arcadia, Coon Rapids, Council Bluffs, Fort Dodge, Holstein, Jewell, Nevada, Roland, Sioux City, Pocahontas, and Webster City. For more information about Availa Bank, visit the website at www.Availa.Bank and follow them on Facebook. Member FDIC.