Realistic Budgeting Tips For College Students That Actually Work

Are you looking for realistic budgeting tips for college students that will not only help you save money but also pay off your student loans and other debts? Then, you are on the right page.

As a college student with no substantial means of income, budgeting is a must. Whether you’re studying off a student loan or you have sponsors handling the financial part of your education, you will need to create effective budget, that is, if you want to live comfortably.

Budgeting for college students is completely different from budgeting as an employee. Workers have a monthly salary to rely on and they can easily track their cash flow, which is important for creating budgets efficiently. As a college student, you can receive money from more than one source. It could be from your friends, family, relatives, well-wishers, or your romantic partner.

The money you receive from these sources might not come regularly and it won’t be the same amount all the time. So how do you budget on that?

Well, it’s really simple.

Realistic Budgeting Tips For College Students That Actually Work

In this article, we have listed 6 realistic budgeting tips for college students that actually work. These tips will help you budget properly whether you have multiple sources of funds or not.

1. Track Your Cash Flow

How does money come? What do you spend the money on? These are important questions you need to answer for you to budget properly. To do this efficiently, take a pen and paper, and write down trusted sources of funds (sources you can rely on) and the amount you expect from these sources on a monthly basis.

Remember to keep an open mind as unforeseen circumstances could occur and you might end up with lesser funds than expected.

Next, write down all your recurring expenses. These expenses are usually what takes the bulk of your cash. Once again, you need to keep an open mind, there are some recurring expenses that don’t happen every month, and these expenses could be the other schooling expenses apart from your tuition fees and rent. You need to take note of all these expenses.

When done, measure up your expenses with your available funds. By doing this, you will know just how much you are receiving on a monthly basis, how much you’re spending, and how much you’re likely to save.

How to Properly Identify Your Income and Expenses

  • Overestimate your expenses: This way you can make for unexpected expenses and when you underspend, you will end up with a surplus you can put in your savings or use to pay off debt.
  • Underestimate your income: As a student, you probably don’t have a steady job which means your income would be irregular. It is best for you to underestimate your income and end up with unexpected cash surplus rather than a budget shortfall
  • Build An Emergency Fund: Emergency funds are used to cover unexpected expenses or plan for changes that may happen while you’re in school. An emergency fund could be built towards moving to a new apartment or starting an internship

To identify your income and expenses properly, you might need some help. Budgeting or money management apps can help you structure your funds and expenses so that you can easily track your cash flow.

You can try apps like Mint, YNAB (You Need A Budget), PocketGuard, Goodbudget, and Every Dollar. Some of these apps are completely free, while others charge a small fee for their services. As a college student, we recommend you try out free options like the Mint money management app.

Mint Money Management App: There are few money management apps that can match up this app. With this app, you can track your bills, track your spending, categorize your budget, and check your credit score. The great thing about the Mint app is that it is completely free.

Once you have followed the steps above, you can now move on to budgeting properly. To budget properly, you will have to be disciplined and ready to stick to the budget you set.  We have provided some tips that will help you create a realistic budget, make more money, save, and get out of student loan debt faster.

2. Differentiate Between Needs and Wants

A need is something that a person must have in order to live or succeed or be happy. A want, on the other hand, is the desire to possess something. Wants are not necessary for someone to live, succeed or be happy.

When creating a budget, you need to differentiate your needs from your wants. You need to also prioritize your needs and budget properly towards the most important needs.

Your needs could to pay off student loan debt, pay off credit cards, save money for payment of a house, save for an emergency fund. 

Wants could be planning to buy a new computer (especially if you don’t need it to handle important assignments), buying a better car, and saving for a vacation.

3. Cut on Spending

This is probably common sense, but as a student, there are many ways you can cut on spending that you don’t know. We are going to start with the pretty obvious ones and move on the undiscovered ways through which you can use to boost your savings as a student.

a. Ditch Cable

You’ve probably heard this a thousand and one times and that is because it is one of the most effective ways to save and stick to a budget.

Ditching cable doesn’t mean you have to live the life of a monk and cut yourself from the world. You can get your entertainment from other cheaper sources. Online streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime can give all the entertainment you need for just less than $10 a month.

b. Save on Purchases

Sometimes the reason why we fail to stick to budgets is not that we lack discipline; it’s due to several unforeseen events like a price hike. If your favorite goods suddenly go from affordable to only-meant-for-the-rich-and-wealthy, then you might have to consider cheaper options.

Unfortunately, cheap doesn’t mean better and sacrificing quality to save money might come back to haunt you later.

The best ways to save on purchases are to

  • Hunt for Coupons and Discounts: You’ve probably been doing this, but it’s time to step up your game. There are so many stores offering discounts so as to get more customers. You should take advantage of this as it will help you save more money and stay on track with your budgeting goals.
  • Compare Prices: if you have a favorite store where you do all your shopping, it is time to ditch that share. When shopping, try to compare the prices of the item at different stores. Also, compare the prices of alternatives. Usually, this takes a lot of time, but it’s worth it in the end.
  • Buy Used: Used items could save you a lot of money, but that’s not always true. Some used items could save you a lot upfront, but cost you more to maintain. When purchasing a used item, you should compare the merits and demerits before finalizing the purchase.
  • Rent/Hire: Look out for products you’re only going to use a few times. Depending on how often you will use them, it could be better to hire these items than to buy them. Before doing so, you should thoroughly consider how much you will save by hiring the items. If you’re going to need them at different times in a month or year, you should measure the cost of owning the item against the cost of renting it for a certain period of time. Remember that if you own the item, you will have to maintain it, which will add to the overall cost of owning the item in the long run.

c. Gym membership

Gym memberships are really important. At the gym, you get access to the right equipment to keep fit and you also get the support of other members trying to reach their fitness goals. Unfortunately, a gym membership will in no way help your wallet. Gym memberships typically cost around $40 to $50 a month. To us, that is $40 to $50 you could save up.

To get fit, you can start jogging on the sidewalk, exercise at home and watch Youtube videos for tutorials on yoga and other exercises.

d. Cook Your Own Food

Definitely, there is no way you can budget properly and save money if you keep eating outside. If you’re spending $10 a day eating out during the week, you would end up spending $50 a week and $200 a month on food. By cooking your own food, you could cut this spending by more than half and save the surplus or place it in your emergency fund.

4. Plan for Unexpected Expenses

Unexpected expenses are bound to happen. You can prepare for them by including a category in your budget for these expenses. By analyzing your previous expenses, you can determine how much you should put aside in this category.

5. Review Your Spending

Spending on alcohol, coffee, soda, and all the little things that cost a dollar or less usually add up to huge sums at the end of the month. While drinking water and staying off coffee for the rest of your college years might sound unrealistic, it could be the best way to go. But, you can simply reduce alcohol intake (or stop taking alcohol entirely), focus on consuming fruit juices, and make your own coffee.

6.  Exercise Your Student Powers

In the U.S, being a student comes with a lot of privileges. Paid apps like YNAB (You Need A Budget) offers its services freely to students for a certain period of time. Companies like Amazon through its Prime Student program allow students to shop and receive free shipping on millions of eligible items.

You can get all these privileges by using your student email address or a student ID when signing up for sites that offer these privileges.

7. Get a Job

There are many businesses that accept students or individuals without a degree. You could sign up for any of them and work during the weekend or after school hours. Better still, you would become a freelancer. If you have a skill like writing, graphic design, animation, web design, or photography, you could sign up to freelance sites like Fiverr, iWriter, and Freelancer and meet with potential clients looking for your services.

Books On Budgeting

Making a budget isn’t meant to be complicated. All you have to do is determine your expenses and income and spend carefully so as to meet your saving goals and pay off debt.

However, it is harder than it sounds. Reluctance to stick to a budget, frivolous spending, overestimating income, and a bunch of unexpected expenses can turn things around and you’d end up spending more, saving less, and falling deeper in debt.

To help you make the right decisions, we picked out the best books on budgeting that will not only help you make the perfect budget, but also help you save, pay off debt, and graduate without worrying about your financials.

1. How to Manage Your Money When You Don’t Have Any (Second Edition)

Sometimes managing money is more difficult than making money. In this book, you will learn how to manage the money you already have and the ways you can use your present income to live a fun-filled life.

This book contains the opinions of a financial expert who understands just how difficult it is to live decently in the difficult realities of the modern economy. By providing you a path to financial stability, you will be able to make better use of your money and focus on things that actually matter.

While this book is targeted at workers, college students can also learn how to manage the allowances they receive by reading the book.

Author: Erik Wecks

Current edition: 2 Edition (March 2012)

Pages: 192

2. The No-Spend Challenge Guide: How to Stop Spending Money Impulsively, Pay off Debt Fast, & Make Your Finances Fit Your Dreams

The No-Spend Challenge Guide by Jen Smith is a book that teaches you how to stick to a budget, pay off debt, and take control of your finance.

Smith shares her story of how she went from not being able to stick to a budget longer than two weeks to pay off $78,000 of debt in less than two years. In this classic guide, she shares the strategies and techniques she used to change her money mindset and budget like a pro.

Through this book, you will learn how to control impulsive spending, how to pay off debt fast, how to get things you have been spending on for free, and ways to save money on financial obligations.

This book suits all categories of persons including students and workers.

Author: Jen Smith

Current edition: (November 2017)

Pages: 91

3. The Money Resolution: 101 Ways To Save Money, Make Money & Get Out Of Debt In One Year

Is it possible for a student to create the perfect budget that allows them to travel, go on vacations, and invest? According to Frankie Calkins, it is totally possible.

In this book; The Money Resolution, Calkins lists 101 ways people including students can save money, make money, and pay off the debt in one year. Through this book, you will be able to learn how to set the right goals, travel on the cheap, lower your interest rates, open a Roth IRA, invest in mutual funds and ETFs, and save on expenses.

Note:To achieve everything in this book, you will have to be extremely determined. Paying off debts very quickly usually takes a lot of discipline and determination and without these things, you will end up incurring late fees and prolonging your debt period.

Author: Frankie Calkins

Current edition: (February 2019)

Pages: 136

4. Why Didn’t They Teach Me This in School?: 99 Personal Money Management Principles to Live By

Through eight lessons focusing on 99 principles, readers can learn money management tips and strategies that will help them save and budget properly. The principles shared in the book are based on the lessons learned by the author as he navigated through his financial life.

Why Didn’t They Teach Me This in School? by Cary Siegel is one of the few books on money management targeted at high school graduates and college graduates.

The book is easy to read and digest and it will help you build the determination and discipline needed to create and stick to budgets. While this book wouldn’t teach you how to create a budget, it will teach you how to make better decisions when it comes to spending money, and how to decide which expenses are wants and which are needs.

Author: Cary Siegel

Current edition: 2.4.2013 Edition (February 2013)

Pages: 188

5. How to Manage Your Money: Top Guide: Stop Impulsive Spending, Pay off Debt Fast and Live a Rich Life

How to Manage Your Money by May Collins is an all-in-one money management guide that talks about everything that has to do with personal finances. This book covers areas like budgeting, spending, saving, debt, investing, insurance, and housing options.

In this book, you will learn healthy money habits to help live a worry-free life, you will learn how to manage money, how to stop frivolous spending, how to budget, and guidance on investing.

Author: May Collins                                                                      

Current edition: (August 2019)

Pages: 65

6. The 30-Day Money Cleanse: Take control of your finances, manage your spending, and de-stress your money for good

The 30-Day Money Cleanse by Ashley Gerstley aims to help you develop a healthier, happier relationship with your money. This book will teach you how to eliminate all money stressors, track your cash flow, and break bad money habits.  You will also learn the basics of how to invest, where to invest, and how to make effective plans and set realistic goals.

According to Ashley, many readers who have tried the 30-Day Money Cleanse have, on average saved over $950 through the course of the month.

If you are interested in boosting your savings and gaining control over your finances, you can go ahead and get this book.

Author: Ashley Feinstein Gerstley

Current edition: (January 2019)

Pages: 256

7. Money Honey: A Simple 7-Step Guide For Getting Your Financial $hit Together

Money Honey by Rachel Richards is the effort of a financial advisor trying to help people take control of their finances and put their lives in order.

This book contains tips that will help you create actionable budgets, save, invest, and build long-term wealth.

Author: Rachel Richards

Current edition: (September 2017)

Pages: 186

8. You Need a Budget: The Proven System for Breaking the Paycheck-to-Paycheck Cycle, Getting out of Debt, and Living the Life You Want

Jesse Mecham is well known for his YNAB (You Need A Budget) app that helps students and other individuals to budget and save properly. In this classic guide, he offers more tips to individuals interested in living a life that is not tied to their paycheck.

Through this book, you will learn several rules that will help you manage money properly. These rules will also help you save more money and pay off debt faster.

Author: Jesse Mecham

Current edition: (December 2017)

Pages: 224

9. The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated

The Index Card by Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack outlines ten simple rules that you could follow when it comes to managing money. This book explains how these rules can help you put your finances in order while living a stress-free life.

Author: Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack

Current edition: Reprint Edition (March 2017)

Pages: 256

10. Personal Finance Simplified: The Step-by-Step Guide for Smart Money Management

Personal Finance Simplified by Tycho Press is one of the best guides for individuals trying to get more value from their money. This book will teach you how to create actionable budgets, help you reduce spending, help you get out of debt, and more.

Author: Tycho Press

Current edition: (February 2014)

Pages: 142

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