Money Matters: College Students & Personal Budgeting

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  • College students are getting hit from every angle. Tuition and board continue to outpace inflation, hundreds of dollars in athletic fees are assessed each academic year and the price of the college textbook can easily top $200. Paying for higher education these days can be challenging, nearly impossible for many students.

    There are ways, however, that college students can afford their education and the expenses related to it. A formal budget can certainly help as well as keeping in mind the following the factors that can weight against your bottom line.

    College Meal Plans

    Food is a big expense, one that you can control by managing where you eat and how much. Many college students opt for the college meal plan, but getting to the dining hall three times per day and 21 times per week may not be possible. If that is the case for you, then you are paying more for your food than you should.

    Before opting for a meal plan, consider how many meals that you will eat in the dining hall. If you work evenings and are away from campus most weekends, then approximately half of your meals will be eaten elsewhere. Thus if you are paying $120 per week for your meals at eating just 10 times per week in the dining room, then you are paying $12 per meal. It may be much cheaper to get your food elsewhere or make meals in your dorm.

    Personal Entertainment Costs

    Quite easily, your entertainment costs on college can add up, putting more pressure on your budget than you had ever anticipated. Some of those expenses can include sporting events, discounted football and basketball games that are enjoyable to watch, but can set you back by $10 or more plus snacks.

    Choose your entertainment options carefully. If you are a sporting nut, consider volunteering at an event than going as a paying spectator. Ushers get to see the game, but pay nothing to get in. At some universities, such as at Duke, ushers are limited to grad students. Other institutions are less restrictive.

    Find other ways to satisfy your entertainment interests as your college offers many free events throughout the year. Trade gaming programs with other students and seek out those events that are heavily discounted for students. Establish a weekly dollar limit for entertainment, such as $10, and stick with it.

    Cars on Campus

    If you own a car, having it on campus is a convenience you may enjoy. It can also stretch any budget, especially if semester fees and parking costs are added in.

    Weigh the cost of keeping your car on campus with not having a car at all. Or leaving your car at home while you are attending college. For some students, a campus car is a necessity, providing a means for getting around campus and getting to off campus jobs. Look for ways to save money on your insurance and to trim your other costs. If your college has an automotive repair program, you may be able to take advantage of student rates when getting your car repaired.

    Taking a Break

    Ah, spring break! After nearly a full year of academic fun, you are entitled to a vacation away from your troubles. Right? Well, no. Inasmuch as spring break is a "rite of passage" for some college students, it is also a potential budget buster for everyone else.

    According to BillShrink.com, the average spring break excursion costs college students $1,100. That’s a lot of money for budget-pinched students and it may not be an expense that you can justify. Most spring break expenses are driven up as students spend hundreds of dollars on bar tabs or pay for things that they do not need. Always read what you are about to sign and review all charges.

    Instead of taking four spring breaks while in college, why not limit that to just one, possibly in your senior year as a reward for your hard work? Anyway, you may end up working most spring breaks or volunteering during others. Reduce your costs by finding ways to take a break without busting your budget.

    College Budget

    Sticking to a budget can help you avoid financial catastrophe later on. Many students leave college deeply in debt, owning students loans and with credit card balances on top of that. Relying on your folks to bail you out only goes so far — at some point you will have to figure out ways to live within your means.

    When putting together a budget, identify your income what you make from your part-time job, your family allowance and gift money. Understand what your fixed expenses are and make room for flexible costs. Establish your goals and develop a spending plan. Keep tabs on the way that you use your credit; obtain free copies of your three credit reports once annually and review same by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.

    If you are still struggling to make ends meet, speak with your college adviser. Many institutions offer guidance on how to manage finances, offering seminars and one-on-one counseling to help students to carefully manage their money.

    References
    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: In College Meal Plans, Adjust as you go Along — http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/news/education/in-college-meal-plans-adjust-as-you-go-along-361667/
    BillShrink.com: Spring Break: Top Ways to Protect Yourself (Financially) — http://www.billshrink.com/blog/8056/spring-break-top-ways-to-protect-yourself-financially/

    Author Information
    Jenny Willis is a professional blogger that enjoys providing consumers with personal finance advice. She writes for Purechecks.com, a leading check printing company of designer personal and business checks.

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