How To Create a College Student Budget Tailored to Your Needs

college student budget

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  • Let’s face it: if you’re in the United States, college can be absurdly expensive.

    Many students find themselves working full time just to make ends meet and still have trouble keeping it all together.

    How do you develop a workable student budget that fits your specific needs?

    There are some things that you can’t go without. You need your classes, of course, and your books and supplies. You probably need to eat. How can you adjust your costs to keep things manageable?

    Creating a college budget isn’t always easy, especially with tuition prices getting higher every year, but here are a few tips for the new student trying to save a little bit of money.

    Save on Books

    Saving on books can be tricky and it varies wildly by the class that you’re taking. This won’t apply everywhere, but keep it in the back of your mind.

    Many textbooks are very expensive. If you get your textbook list and you balk at the price list, consider waiting for the first day to purchase them. It’s great to want to get ahead of your studies, but there are a few reasons for this.

    • You might decide this is a class that you’re going to drop in the first week and you’ve wasted that money
    • Some professors are required to put certain books on their lists but don’t actually require them for class use. These professors will often note this on the syllabus or in the day 1 discussion.

    Now, you won’t always get this lucky. There are other ways to save on necessary textbooks. Sharing with friends who have already taken the class that year is the best option as it’s free and you’ll have the current edition. Buying a used version of that edition is also a great way to save a few dollars.

    Ask your professor if a previous edition of the textbook will suffice. Always ask first. While it may seem like the information should be the same, sometimes there are new assignments or different page numbers, or even entirely new chapters between editions.

    If you haven’t taken college classes before, plan for at least $200 extra per class on books and supplies. It may be under for some 100-level classes. It can very easily go over in the arts and sciences. Set that money aside.

    Look for Scholarship and Aid Opportunities

    If you’re struggling financially, there are often financial aid options that you can apply for that can help you cover some of the costs of higher education. Budgeting for college is hard, and for some people, it can be inaccessible. There are avenues for help.

    Not all financial aid is the same and it will vary depending on your age, your dependence on your parents or guardians, and whether you’re applying for an undergraduate program or a graduate program.

    Some schools offer program-specific financial relief to students below a certain income threshold who meet their requirements (Yale, for example, has begun this process).

    You can also try applying for different scholarships. There are scholarships based on academic performance, extracurricular activities, personal background, and more. If you’re in need of support, it doesn’t hurt to look into all of the unique scholarships that might be available to you. You won’t know if you qualify if you don’t apply.

    Figure Out Living Expenses

    When you set off for college, you might be forced to live on campus. If this is the case, you won’t have many options in this category for your first year. This will, however, give you a chance to track your costs against the costs of apartments in the area.

    (Tip: Make friends with people in the apartments and try to see who’s spending more on what)

    You’re going to factor in housing and food costs. Living on campus means that you’ll likely have a meal card as well as a housing budget that’s already set in place.

    If this is more than or about the same as the regular cost of living outside of campus, consider swapping out during your second year to save money. Often times, the meal plans on campus can be more expensive than the regular cost of cooking meals at home. They also are often unhealthy and not very diverse.

    This might take some math and a bit of shopping around on apartment finding websites to really figure out what’s more cost-effective, but it will be worth it if you’re really invested in a smart college student budget.

    Bonus: If you’re staying close to home and you’re in a stable situation, consider living with your family for an extra year if they’ll let you. You might not want to now, but your future self will thank you.

    Consider Transportation

    If you’re living on campus and you don’t have an off-campus job, this likely isn’t a huge issue for you.

    If that’s not the case though, you have a few things to think about that may or may not be new to you depending on how long you’ve been on your own.

    Do you have a car? Do you pay your own registration and insurance? Are you moving far enough away that it needs to be transported to you?

    If you’re in a city with promising public transportation, your university likely offers a discounted or free transportation pass along with tuition (check your paperwork! It’s likely included with your student ID card).

    other valuable tips:

    If the cost of insurance and registration will break the bank for you and you don’t need a car, now might be the time to leave it behind (at least temporarily).

    That said, not all cities are transportation-friendly. Adjust this advice for your situation. Look for student rates and try to avoid the expensive parking fees that many colleges offer by parking a bit farther away from campus.

    Working Out a College Student Budget Isn’t Easy

    College is expensive and only getting more expensive as the years go on. If you want to seek higher education but you need to keep costs down, finding ways to save many ahead of time is so important to developing a smart college student budget.

    You won’t always be able to cut costs, but through smart planning, buying used, and being willing to give up a few things, you can make college accessible.

    For more posts like this on college and academia, visit our college journal.

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    Off-to-College reference:

    GUIDE: money management tips

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