Budgeting for College Students: 12 Simple Finance Tips for Success

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(FREE Printable Budget Template Included!)

Budgeting for College Students 12 Simple Finance Tips for Success

While living at home, you don’t have much to do with managing finances.


Once you’re out on your own, you’ll find that your finances are under your complete control. And that can be a little daunting…

When setting up a budget by yourself for the first time, you may have some questions like:

“Where should I even start? “


“How much math is involved?

Putting together your first budget may sound like some BIG, time consuming task but I’m going to show you that it’s actually a super simple undertaking.

The nice part is:

You don’t need to be good at math to be good at budgeting. There is nothing beyond simple calculations required and hey, you even have a calculator handy right on your phone.

The writing part of budgeting will take you 10 minutes (or less) to get started: the majority of it is arming yourself with the right financial knowledge and flexing your willpower muscle every now and again. ?

Budgeting doesn’t have to mean restricting.


Using a budget will give you MORE freedom, but first, you need to learn how to do it effectively. I’ve simplified the task of making your first budget by breaking it down into 12 easy-to-follow guidelines.

Learning to budget the hard way (aka The School of Hard Knocks) can take years to get right. You can skip learning how to budget with the trial and error method by using this guide.

Let’s dive right in!

P.S. Breaking out a notebook and jotting down a few things may be in your best interest.


I can not stress how important this step is – seeing what you have on paper makes a HUGE difference when you are planning out any money goals. Write it down!

When you see your budget on paper it helps you visualize your future goals.

Not sure what to write or where to start?

Start off by printing out one of my free classic monthly budgeting worksheets or my new free college budget templates. Both are great options!

The worksheets are straightforward and easy to use. All the budgeting categories are already laid out for you, and all you need to do is fill in the blanks.

Writing down the details of your income and where it goes can help you get your expenses under control.

Start by keeping track of your recurring monthly expenses. This includes things like: rent, gas, electric, cable, phone bill, etc.

Next, write down flexible expenses – things you can play around with – such as the amount of money spent on eating out, entertainment, hair cuts, clothing, etc.

Once you pinpoint which parts of your budget you can afford to spend less on, you can figure out what you want to trim down spending on.

In turn:

This helps you save up for things you want because you’ll finally have extra money which you can then save.

Now that you have your budget sheet filled out, look at it at least weekly to make sure you stay ON track.

Better yet:

Keep it posted in a conspicuous place. Maybe hang it on the fridge with a magnet or pin it to the wall by your calendar.


The following step is to open a bank account – if you already haven’t.

Most banks will have monthly fees just to have an account. So:

Look for accounts WITHOUT fees, and ask if they offer special rates for students.


Another way to avoid these fees is open an account with a credit union. Read about the differences between a bank and credit union here.

Once you have opened an account, this brings us back to our first point: write down everything. And, ACTUALLY use a notebook or a check register (usually provided for free by your bank/ credit union) to log every transaction you make with your account.

Don’t rely just on your online statements.


What you have written down and what the bank shows should be the same, but sometimes there are expenses that have not cleared yet.  If you count on an automated balance and a bill comes out that you forgot about, you could be facing BIG fees.

If you use electronic fund transfers to pay bills (which honestly, most bills are done that way these days) it is not taken out of your account immediately.

You may forget about it and if there are insufficient funds that’s bad news in more than one way…

…Not only will your bill be late (late fees), but you will also have to deal with overdraft fees. And they can be steep, especially when you are already having trouble making ends meet.

To make matters worse:

If you have too many negative balances or overdrafts a bank can choose to close your account. Once this happens:

It is not easy to get another account opened because this is reported and checked by other banks/ credit unions when you go to open a new account.

If there is a mistake on your account, you can call the bank and dispute it. Don’t be afraid to report an error, because these institutions make mistakes too!

You do not have to pay for the bank’s mistakes.


Can you relate to the images above? ? I know I can.

Avoid the stress of having less money than you expected having, by budgeting for less than you make. When writing down my expenses I like to round up, subtracting the spare change from my budget will only benefit me.

It’s always better to subtract something extra, even if it is just a little bit.

For example:

If you make $500 a month and will be getting a $50 raise in 2 weeks – do NOT spend it now!

Nothing gets you in more trouble than spending what you do not have. Wait until it is actually in your account before using it – and in the meantime forget about it.

Once it arrives, it will be a happy surprise and then you can decide just what to use it for.


This is something you can do while you are out at the farmer’s market, garage sales, and even second-hand stores.

Saving a few bucks here and there really adds up, and you won’t find yourself nickel & diming your account till it’s at a zero balance.

The best part is:

It’s easy – just make a lower offer or simply say, “I’d like to buy this – will you take less?”

When buying a car, definitely negotiate the price! There is almost always some wiggle room with used cars.

There is less haggling you can do with brand new cars, but still some.


If the seller isn’t willing to budge on the price don’t be afraid to walk away. If you make a reasonable offer and the seller is serious about selling, oftentimes you will get a call back about it.


You can survive a long time on just these 3 items because they fill you up, and they’re cheap.

Having flexible food staples will help you create more recipes and spend less. Or at the very least:

You’ll end up eating your breakfast at home instead of going through the drive-thru. Eating breakfast also keeps you from eating out during the day – thus saving you money.

And, no – you don’t have to buy bread, milk, and eggs specifically.

Pick ANY inexpensive foods that will go a long way in terms of meals. Foods that you won’t tire of easily.

Need more help with coming up with your shopping list? Check out my healthy college grocery list.


If you screw up with a bill, call the company and tell them about your mistake – they will usually refund you the late fee (the first time).


If you know you will be late or know you can’t pay a bill, tell them you can’t and when you can expect to pay it. Some companies may not charge you a late fee.

It’s a courtesy to call them because you made a commitment to pay your bill. If you don’t call and tell them, they will often times do something like call you over and over until you pay.

To avoid this:

If you know you are going to get paid 2 weeks after a bill is due, call them now and work something out!

If you decide you can afford to miss a payment, it can compound with fees and can take you 2 – 3 months just to pay it back. Be realistic when spending money designated for something else, because it’s not as simple as it sounds to catch up.

If you think that a bill will be charged off (meaning you never paid the balance and the company wrote it off) is no big deal – think again. That unpaid bill can haunt you for up to 7 years.


When you move to your first apartment, you will have to pay a deposit. Even in the dorms, you may have deposits to pay – albeit smaller than most apartments.

If you are moving into a dorm, allow $200 for deposits. If you are moving into a traditional apartment there could be well over $1000 in deposits required depending on your area.

This is money you have to pay upfront BEFORE you even think about paying any rent. The landlord holds this money until you move out in case you cause any major damages to the rental.

If you don’t follow the terms in your rental contract you can expect to get that deposit money back.

As you can see, it’s a considerable amount of money you may need to move into your first rental. That’s why you’ll want to get started saving for a deposit early.


While we are on the subject of deposits, here are some tips to make sure you get back your full deposit when you move out (because you’ll probably need that money to put down on your next apartment).

Always get a receipt for the deposit – especially if you pay in cash.

I don’t care how nice you think the landlord is, ALWAYS get a receipt. If you pay in cash, you have absolutely NO recourse if the person says you did not pay – making a receipt critical to get.

This includes when you split rent/ deposits with a roommate.

– Know your rights – all areas have a housing association. Make sure to contact them before you rent.

They can help you pinpoint good landlords and explain leases to you. They are there to protect you against slumlords.

You can call them after you have moved if you have any questions, too. This protects both you as a tenant and the landlord.

– When you sign a lease, make sure you initial everything.

Have the landlord or manager do a walk thru with you BEFORE you sign the final paperwork. The walk-through allows you both to sign off on a checklist of the condition the apartment is in when you are moving in.

If you see any marks/ scuffs or problems with the apartment when you first move in,  document this. Keep a copy of these records for you and give one to the landlord – ask them to sign it.

Imagine getting charged to repair a damaged counter that was already in that condition when you moved in.


Make sure to take before and after pictures of the apartment to ensure you get your entire deposit back. Everyone has a camera on their phones these days – it’s so simple!

– If you have problems while renting, make sure to document your conversations and take pictures of any problems.

For example:

If you have a leak that you have reported, but the landlord has failed to fix it, take a picture and write down all the information related to it.

This way, if there is damage due to the leak you have proof that you told the landlord releasing you of the liability of paying for repairs.

– You must give a 30-day notice if you want to move EVEN if your lease is ending.

If you do not, you will be the one responsible for the extra month’s rent. Sometimes you can work out something less than 30 days with your landlord, but don’t count on it.


You’ll want to save up for deposits other than rent, too.

Did you know that are deposits to pay to turn on utilities or cable?

And did you know, that if you move they will charge transfer fees?

Make sure to budget an extra $100 – $200 in transfer fees when moving.


For example:

If you live in Phoenix, Arizona your summer electric bill will be MUCH higher than your winter bill.

Some electric companies will allow you to choose an “even-pay plan.” That means they average your utility bill throughout the year and you pay the same flat rate each month.

Budgeting is a whole lot easier if you pay the same amount each month.

If your utility company does not offer this type of plan, you should put aside money during the lower energy bill months to pay during the higher months. You can even ask the utility company which month was the highest and lowest for the last tenant.

They will tell you the month and amount.

Do this monthly and when the higher summer or winter bills come, you will have the amount you need to pay instead of having to scramble to scrape together the extra cash.


Get this:

If you have a strict budget that doesn’t allow you to have any fun – you are less likely to stick to your budget.

So that means:

If you like to eat out, budget a little in for that every now and then. Or, if you like making crafts, budget in a little for heading to the craft store every once in a while.

Or find activities that cost nothing to do. You don’t have to pay a lot to have a good time.

Check out this list 60 Cheap & Fun Date Ideas the next time you’re feeling bored.


This means that if you don’t have an extra $30 a month to spend, don’t go take out a loan that requires you to pay that monthly.

It’s like writing a check for money you don’t have. If you have to take out a loan to pay your bills, then you still won’t have enough money anyway.

Looking for ways extra ways to earn money?

Here are 8 Flexible Ways to Make Money in College or 16 Ways to Make Extra Money During Your Spare Time.


Credit Karma is a free way to check your credit report and your credit score is updated every 7 days.

Why should you monitor your credit report?

It’s often good to know what is making your credit go up or down.

For example:

If you are late on a payment, you will generally see the effect within 30 days and see your credit score drop. This gives you a realization of how much one skipped payment can affect your credit.

A visual like this can help you stay on track. Checking your credit also helps ensure that fraudulent accounts or incorrectly reported information can be fixed quickly.


When you do want to make a purchase that requires a loan (think a car or house loan), you can get approved for it.

As an added bonus:

A higher credit score will usually get you better/ lower interest rates.

If you stick to following the rules laid out in these 12 tips, you are sure to rock your first budget.

Budgeting successfully is attainable even for – no especially – for beginners. You have the knowledge, now it’s up to you to make good decisions.

Looking for ways to stretch your budget? Check out 7 Ways to Make Your Money Go Further!

Other questions about budgeting? Leave me a comment below.


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