Budgeting for College – Some tips to keep you in check

Ah, sweet freedom. If you’re about to head to college for the first time, then you’re probably already getting excited about the idea of being out on your own. You’ve got so much to look forward to, but your new adventure comes with greater responsibilities, too – especially where money is concerned. Budgeting for college students isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort. Creating a budget now can help keep you from racking up unnecessary debt as well as save for future goals (spring break, anyone?).

With this in mind, we’ve outlined the areas you may want to plan for when putting your budget together. Take a look at our overview below and then download the free college budget worksheet and start crunching the numbers.

First, let’s look at your fixed expenses. These are the ones that will stay the same (or nearly the same) each month. In this category, you’ll include things like:

  • Housing and related living expenses. If you’re living in a dorm, most of your expenses may be covered under one payment for the semester. In an apartment or house, you’d include expenses like rent, cable, and Internet service.

And don’t forget your cell phone bill! If it’s the same each month, put it in your fixed expenses. If it varies depending on usage, add it to your variable list.

  • Will you be driving or taking public transportation? Do you have a car payment? Regular-expense items like auto insurance, parking fees, and public transportation passes would go here.
  • If you’re not on your parents’ health insurance, be sure to add this expense to your budget. Also consider renters insurance if you’re renting a house or apartment. 

Now, on to your variable expenses – the ones that are more likely to change from month to month. You’ll want to plan for things like:

  • If you’re living in a dorm, you might have signed on for a meal plan. If that’s the case, most of your food expenses should be covered. But everyone needs snacks, and sometimes the dining hall just won’t be appealing. It makes sense to budget for non-cafeteria food expenses, as well. 
  • Toiletries and personal services. Everything from shampoo, soaps, and makeup to haircuts and manicures can go in this category.
  • School-related expenses: Be sure to include the cost of supplies and any other similar expenses that aren’t rolled into your tuition bill.
  • Medical expenses. Add prescriptions and any other ongoing medical costs to your budget. Also allow for a certain number of unexpected doctor visits each month or semester.
  • Credit card expenses. Maintaining good credit is critical to a healthy financial future, so keeping credit card expenses to a minimum – and paying your bill on time – is essential.
  • Clothing and entertainment costs. Although this is the most fun category, it can also be the trickiest because it’s the most likely to vary from month to month – and the most likely to go over budget. When planning here, try to anticipate how much you really spend on clothes and account for as many different types of entertainment expenses as possible, from downloading music and going to concerts to restaurants and movies.
  • Travel expenses. We’ve already covered your fixed expenses, but what about those impromptu road trips, weekend treks home to do laundry and of course, spring break? Try to realistically estimate as many as possible here.

Of course, tuition is one big expense you’ll have in college, but it’s not one you’ll likely address on a monthly basis. Make a plan to cover your tuition, of course, but keeping it separate from your monthly budget may help you keep things straight.

And now that you’ve got a baseline for your budget, take your knowledge to the next level, with Cobalt CU’s Budgeting and Saving e-Book. It’s designed to make budgeting a bit easier, and it can help you get your financial future off on the right foot. Download the book today!