The College Student's Guide to First-Time Budgeting

It’s safe to say that many of us took living at our parents’ house for granted. They took care of a lot (probably more than you knew about). But now you’re on your own and some, if not all, of these responsibilities are on you. Not only do you have to feed yourself and manage your own time, you now have a great deal more financial responsibility.

Groceries, rent, utilities, insurance, clothing, school supplies… the list goes on and on and your monthly expenditures get very large very quickly. How do you transition from having a great deal provided for you to being lost and alone in this extremely expensive world we live in?

First and foremost, launch yourself into the working world and get a job. Balancing school and work will be difficult but it’s far from impossible. There’s a plethora of part-time jobs available on college campuses that are especially flexible with class schedules and are often reserved for students. Food and retail positions are also great starter options and will usually be willing to work around your classes. Jobs like these will help you fill up some resume lines, as well as give you much needed life experience that future employers will be thrilled to see.

Now that you have your source of income, it’s time to BUDGET. It seems daunting at first, and I’ll be honest, it’s no walk in the park but it will be indescribably helpful. When I’m budgeting, I’m a fan of using Google Sheets or Excel so that I can see everything in one place but do whatever you’re most comfortable with! Here’s your step-by-step budget plan:

  1. Calculate your monthly income (and overestimate income tax to give yourself a small buffer)

  2. Make a list of all of your monthly expenses (this list will end up being longer than you think)

  3. Prioritize your monthly expenses (Rent? Number one. That fabfitfun subscription? Last.)

  4. Subtract your monthly expenses from your income, starting with the highest priority (it's likely your expenses may start to outweigh your income and this is where it gets tricky)

  5. Start eliminating some optional expenses from the bottom of your priority list

  6. Repeat step 5 until your expenses are a decent amount below your income

  7. SAVE - start building up your savings account early and, once your money is in savings, consider it untouchable

Budgets are hard to make and even harder to stick to. Don’t beat yourself up if you go over in one of your areas. However, if you are consistently struggling to stay within your budget, consider implementing a stricter process, like the envelope method:

Cash your paycheck, and allot it to envelopes labeled with your expenses. Once the cash is gone, you’ve used up your budget for that particular area. You can find more detailed guides on envelope budgeting here and here.

Saving money and budgeting is stressful, but with careful planning and some self-restraint, you can build up your savings account without living off ramen and mac n cheese. Take advantage of resources around you and don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

Use these tips and your financial situation will cease to be the sole cause of your stress. Good luck and happy budgeting!

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