30 Budget Tips for College Students

Even without considering tuition and mandatory fees, college life is expensive. Between tuition, housing, food, and entertainment, many college students rack up debt that will take years to pay off. Many students will be relying on their student loans and scholarships to make ends meet. Some students work to get a little extra money, but there’s no way around it, however, a budget can save college students.

College living is pricey, and most students are cash strapped. Yet there are hundreds of ways to save money during school.

This list will highlight 30 of the very best budget tips for college students across the USA to implement into their college plans.

What is Budgeting?

Making a monthly budget is the first step towards staying on top of your finances. Budgeting gives you a big-picture view of your money, so you can make informed spending and saving decisions.

It can help reduce the amount of debt you have once you graduate because, trust me, you don’t want to enter the working world with $30K of debt.

Importance of Budgeting in College

Collective student loans have risen 116% over the last decade, reaching a staggering $1.5 trillion in recent years. With so much money being borrowed, students must invest in the benefits that budgeting can offer, including:

Avoiding Unnecessary Expenses

Budgeting helps you separate wants from needs. This allows you to identify expenses that absolutely must be paid — things like tuition, housing, and food — and are thus worthy of taking out a student loan.

At the same time, it helps you identify unnecessary expenses — like eating out, going to the movies, or other recreational spending — that can be avoided if you don’t have the cash.

Helping You Stay Healthy

There’s no doubt that school is stressful, and the crushing weight of tens of thousands of dollars of debt only adds to that burden. Studies show that 68% of students lose sleep over school-associated stress.

Teaching You Valuable Life Skills

Budgeting isn’t a skill that will ever become dated. After college, as you start your career, buy a house, have a family, prepare for retirement, and so on, the ability to maintain a budget will ensure that your expenses are properly covered at all times. 

Fostering a Healthy Financial Future

Finally, budgeting in college can put you in the best position possible post-school. 

Rather than racking up debt and wasting money in the present — all of which will have to be paid back with interest in the future — a college budget helps you control your spending and create the healthiest financial situation possible when you start your career.

Budgetary Principles

Budgetary principles represent values and rules that need to be considered and/or accomplished when preparing, executing, and analyzing the budget of a government or a public sector entity.

Therefore they indirectly affect different aspects of the budgeting process and the budgeting cycle, as well as many other issues of public administration.

Budgeting challenges

Check out these common budget challenges and key steps you can take to tackle them.

Being indecisive about finances

There’s nothing worse than being indecisive about finances. Financial indecisiveness can stop you in your tracks and prevent you from accomplishing your financial goals.

Just the thought of even making a budget may be overwhelming, but the most productive thing you can do is just start.

The more you procrastinate, the longer it will be before you take control of your finances. Indecisiveness is one of the biggest challenges of budgeting, but with a little financial motivation, you can successfully tackle this budget challenge.

Shopping impulsively 

One of the hardest budget challenges to overcome is impulsive shopping. Most people are guilty of impulse shopping. Americans make 156 impulse purchases every year. The average spent on impulse purchases is roughly $450 a month, costing over $5,000 a year!

Have you ever seen the movie Confessions of a Shopaholic? Can you relate to the thrill of purchasing a new purse or pair of shoes only to be devastated when you open your credit card bill? If so, you may have a shopping addiction, and this is devastating to your budget.

Not having financial goals

The key to overcoming the challenges of budgeting is having financial goals in place. If you don’t have a clear goal in mind, it can cause you to lose focus on why you created a budget in the first place.

Financial goals can motivate you to stick with your budget and become financially successful. Examples of financial goals are: saving for a vacation, building an emergency fund, paying for a wedding

Saving for a home down payment, Planning your retirement

Not budgeting for savings

Even if you’re paying your bills on time, it doesn’t mean you are budgeting correctly. For example, if you aren’t building savings into your budget then you aren’t preparing for your future.

One of the most important things to do when budgeting is to pay yourself first. The quickest way to save money is to build it into your budget.

This way, you aren’t tempted to spend it, and it becomes a good money habit too.

Unexpected expenses 

Life is full of unexpected expenses, and this is one of the hardest budget challenges to tackle.

That’s why you must build up your emergency savings account because you will be prepared for the unexpected. Things like car repairs, medical expenses, or losing your job can throw you off track.

The goal is to save 3-6 months of living expenses to cover any unexpected expenses. To keep from being overwhelmed with a high number, work on saving your first $1,000, and build from there.

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30 budget tips for college students

Try to attend college in a low-cost city

A student who studies in San Francisco or New York City is bound to end up spending more. Most things in those cities cost more than other places in the US. Niche states that in 2019, Fort Wayne is the city with the lowest cost of living in America.

Luckily, the city also has some pretty good colleges. The University of Saint Francis, for instance, has many success stories. Huntington University is located just outside of Fort Wayne, and its student body is given over $12 million in grants and scholarships every year.

And those are just two of the options in one of the many affordable US cities.

This is one of the budget tips for college students.

Get a part-time job

If (non-loan) money is coming into your bank, then of course you’ll save more money. You may not want to work during college, because it has the potential to distract you from your studies, but there are ways to make work work for you.

There are now tons of opportunities on gig economy apps that allow students to work as much or as little as they want and change their schedules accordingly. 

Be sure to have roommates

If you aren’t going to be living in a dorm, then you have options for where you’ll live. One thing that will always save you money when it comes to renting in college, however: splitting the bills with roommates.

Some people choose to live alone, but that comes at a high price. A single person living in a studio apartment will almost always be more expensive than someone splitting a two-bedroom apartment with another housemate.

Ride a bike to places

A wide range of American colleges is encouraging students to use bikes instead of cars. They’re so much cheaper and great for the environment.

The best colleges sell bikes to students for incredibly low rates and have bike repair shops on campus that offer free tune-ups and low-cost repairs.

This is one of the budget tips for college students.

Use public transportation instead of driving

Many colleges in America provide students with passes that allow them to access their city’s public transportation entirely for free. If a student goes to a college that does this, then they will save thousands on getting around, if they use it.

Even if you go to a college where you will have to pay to use public transportation, then that’s still cheaper than buying, maintaining, and running a car.

Find out all the scholarships and grants available to you

Many students think that scholarships and grant money can only be awarded before enrolling in college. This isn’t true.

Many colleges have systems in place that reward students financially for good grades, volunteering, being an active part of the college town community, and many other things. And you can also look outside of your college for funding opportunities.

This is one of the budget tips for college students.

Look for the cheapest healthcare procedure

Everyone knows that American healthcare is ludicrously expensive, even if you have health insurance. But there are ways of lowering the costs.

If you need a procedure or operation, you can ask different hospitals what they charge. A government-run hospital may even offer the procedure at no cost at all.

Find out all the free or low-cost things available on campus

Every college in America, even the smallest, has free things on offer. Not all of it will appeal to you, but it could be that you’ve been paying for something unnecessarily.

Many colleges will give their students free yoga, free entertainment, free gym memberships, free outdoor equipment, free counseling, and more.

Look for free stuff

If you’re going to attend college in a big city, then there’s a good chance that you can get lots of the stuff you need for free. Craigslist has a section where people post the unwanted items that they want to be rid of fast.

For people who attend college in more rural areas, then they can always see what’s on freestuff.com, which does exactly what its name says, i.e it gives you free stuff.

And some colleges will give students things for free if they ask for them.

Only get used textbooks/check them out of the library/find them in digital form

Textbooks are an essential part of every single college degree. While it can seem easier to just buy a new edition at the store, you should also look for used ones on eBay, Amazon, Google Shopping, or even in used book stores.

Some textbooks won’t be needed for the long term, so you can probably get them from the college’s library or just a normal library.

Try to keep your utility bills low

It can be hard to live without an AC system in your home, but you can still be selective about how much you use it. Some people keep it running all day and night.

The result of this is that you’ll end up paying hundreds of dollars a month for a cool apartment and damage the environment. Instead, you can use your AC in other ways.

Use free software

Many students buy Microsoft Office, the Adobe Creative Suite, and other software for professional and personal usage. But many of these applications have free alternatives that can do the job just as well.

Instead of Microsoft Office, Open Office has everything that a student could need. Instead of Adobe Photoshop, there is GIMP.

Instead of Norton Antivirus, many other anti-virus options are money-saving recommended by respectable websites.

Look for student discounts

You may not realize all of the places that offer student discounts or student extras. Here are a few amazing discounts available to all students: Apple has a wide range of student pricing options (and free Beats headphones with many student purchases.) Greyhound has a student discount card that saves 10% on fares.

Amazon Prime has a student plan that’s free for six months and then just $6.49 per month (this includes its streaming service.) FedEx gives students between 20% to 30% off shipping.

And this is just what large companies are offering. Whenever you’re purchasing anything, ask if there’s a student discount.

Shop around for cheaper providers of essentials

Everyone in the 21st century needs a cell phone plan. But many people in America are overspending on their plans. Instead of spending $40 a month, they could be spending $15 a month for unlimited talk, text, and data with Good2Go Mobile.

The only catches are that the data becomes slow after one gigabyte of 4G LTE usage per month and that to get the offer this cheap, you need to sign up for auto payments.

You may be able to find similar deals on insurance, internet, electricity, banking, and so many more essential services.

Do not get cable

With the internet, students have so many more ways to access entertainment. Some students can be just as content watching YouTube as TV. And if you do want to get a TV, consider an option that’s cheaper than cable, such as Sling, which can get you dozens of TV channels for just $15 to $25 per month.

An even cheaper option is to get one streaming service, like Hulu or Netflix. Hulu’s plans start at $5.99 a month and allow a customer to access thousands of shows and movies.

Netflix is a little more pricey, at $8.99 per month, but the advantage is that there are no commercials.

This is one of the budget tips for college students.

Sell things when you are done with them

If you had a textbook in your first year that you don’t need in the second year, then why not sell it to a student in the year below you? Both of you will be getting a deal, as you’re making money, and the next student is getting the book for a cut price.

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Buy and cook groceries with roommates

If you live with people you’re social with, you can save lots of money by pooling together the grocery budget.

If you all like certain meals, then buy the ingredients in bulk and split the costs. And you can turn this cost-cutting measure into a social activity by cooking and eating meals together.

Buy food that has a longer shelf life

This doesn’t have to mean that you only buy tinned goods. Anyone who has ever worked in a supermarket will tell you that employees put fresher food and drink behind the older food and drink.

Therefore, if you want something that lasts longer before going bad, dig into the back of the stack. It might annoy the managers of the supermarket, but there’s no law saying you have to get the items at the front of the shelves.

This is one of the budget tips for college students.

Look for all the money-saving offers out there

We all know that a coupon has so many offers, some of them amazing, some of them less than amazing.

Of course, students can make use of the good deals on that site, especially when they want to treat themselves on a budget.

But other apps have similar yet different functions to coupons that allow you to have nice things at a lower cost.

Keep a close eye on your expenses

Many people don’t realize how much certain things cost them when added up. And you may have subscriptions to things that you haven’t used in years.

Therefore, budget-conscious student needs to spend time looking at their bank statements. It isn’t fun, but you could discover that you’re spending money on something you haven’t used in years or paying more than you thought on a leisure activity.

If that’s the case, then cancel the subscriptions, cut costs and save.

Embrace second hand and thrift store buys

Every student needs to buy clothes. Getting them from department stores can quickly rack up these costs. Thrift stores are filled with clothing at a reduced rate. And pre-owned shopping can stretch beyond just clothing.

If you want to save money on electronics, furniture, equipment, tools, jewelry, and more then always look for pre-owned items first.

Nowadays, students have more opportunities than ever when it comes to finding pre-owned goods. eBay, Craigslist, Poshmark, and many other websites and apps let students find the best-priced used items.

Buy things far in advance or offseason

It’s no surprise that if you want to buy a plane ticket, then the earlier you buy it the better! The trick here is to plan well in advance for your future travels during the study.

This also applies to buying things off-season. If you need a new coat comes the winter, then buy one in the middle of the summer! If you’re going to need an AC unit, then buy it in the winter!

This is one of the budget tips for college students.

Find the cheapest possible prescription and over the counter drugs

Not too many people realize that the costs of drugs in America can vary wildly for several reasons. One of them is because name-brand drugs are sold at a much higher rate than generic drugs.

Also, the costs differ from drugstore to drugstore.

Lastly, some government-run hospitals offer discounted prescriptions to people who are on low incomes.

Read: College Student Budget Template: How To Track Your Spending In School

Look for ATMs that don’t charge

Using an ATM that charges is so annoying. It’s a charge for a service that you can get for free elsewhere. Luckily, you can ensure that trips to expensive ATMs are kept to a minimum by doing just a little bit of research. Most banks and card companies have tools on their websites that let you search for ATMs that don’t charge.

You can also just search for your bank’s ATMs on Google Maps if you’re in an unfamiliar location and can’t find a free ATM. It only takes a second, and it could save you money!

Plan days where you don’t spend any money

Most people spend money on something every single day. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Very often, you’ll have a stockpile of activities and resources, meaning that you don’t need to spend extra money to have fun.

You can spend a whole day reading a book, watching TV or relaxing in a park without paying anything. You’ve probably got enough groceries in the fridge to eat well for an entire day, anyway.

This may seem like an incredibly austere way to live, but if you go one day a week without spending any money, then that’ll mean that you’ve got more money for the other days!

This is one of the budget tips for college students.

Never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach

When you’re buying food and you’re hungry, it all looks so delicious. The result is that you’ll end up with too much food. Not only will some of that food go to waste, but so will the cash that you spent on the food.

Get haircuts for free

It’s possible to get a haircut for no cost whatsoever. All you have to do is look for someone who is training to be a barber. Some hairdressing/barber schools will proactively ask for volunteers so that their students can gain some much-needed experience.

Choose the right student bank account for you

There are many bank accounts for students. Perhaps the best of the best is Chase’s, which has no fee for five years as long as there’s $25 in the bank.

But there’s also the fact that the bank gives students a $100 bonus for opening an account. However, new student bank account offers are appearing all the time.

It could also be that a local bank in your region has an enticing offer, so ask people in your college (students and staff) about what’s available and what’s best for you.

Quit smoking and other expensive habits

This tip ranks low, as only 13 out of 100 people aged between 18 to 24 smoke. But for those who do, it’s an incredibly expensive habit. The average smoker spends $2,292 on smoking per year.

Luckily, most colleges are more than happy to provide free assistance to their students who want to give up their smoking habits. This tip also applies to excessive alcohol usage and other expensive bad habits.

Even if you can’t give up entirely, then reducing your habit will have a positive financial (and personal) effect!

This is one of the effective budget tips for college students.

Eat less meat

Only 5% of Americans are vegetarians or vegans. But vegetarians save a lot of money because the meat is one of the most expensive things in the supermarket.

You don’t have to give up meat entirely, but you could decide to eat meat-free meals three or four days a week to cut down on your spending.

FAQs on Budget Tips for College Students

How should a student budget effectively?

Budgeting

Make a budget. Create a spreadsheet and compare your income and expenses for the next year

Track your spending

Differentiate ‘needs’ vs ‘wants’

Stick to your budget

Look out for free money

Be smart about how you pay school fees.

Don’t waste your meal plan dollars

Save money on textbooks

What are the benefits of a budget?

manage your money effectively.

allocate appropriate resources to projects.

monitor performance.

meet your objectives.

improve decision-making.

identify problems before they occur – such as the need to raise finance or cash flow difficulties.

plan for the future.

increase staff motivation

What are the 3 types of budgets?

Budgets are classified into three categories-balanced budget, surplus budget, and deficit budget.

What are the qualities of a good budget?

To be successful, a budget must be Well-Planned, Flexible, Realistic, and Communicated.

The Budget Must Address the Enterprise’s Goals.

Budget Must be a Motivating Tool.

The Budget Must Have the Support of Management.

Budget Must Convey a Sense of Ownership.

The Budget Should be Flexible.

What are the four walls of budgeting?

The four walls are the things you absolutely must pay for to keep on living. As Dave Ramsey lists them, the four walls are food, shelter, basic clothing, and basic transportation.

Conclusion

From learning life skills to securing your financial future, budgeting is an essential activity while attending college.

It’s understandable if the severe lack of income and excessive debt makes you want to throw your hands up and give up on the entire budgeting process from the get-go.

Nevertheless, the truth is, college is one of the most important times to track your expenses, limit your debt, and set yourself up for as promising a financial future as possible.

So put in the effort now to establish good habits. You won’t regret it down the road for this budget tips for college students.

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