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How to Make a Budget as a College Student

Society of Grownups
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Published on November 30, 2017

This post originally appeared on Society of Grownups

I’m a student. How can I stick to a budget and still have a social life?

Here at Society of Grownups, we often hear from students who want to budget responsibly. And kudos to them—it’s tempting to take that big initial check of grants and loans, the available line on a new credit card, and the funds from a work-study job right to Amazon, the mall, or a pub.

Savvy Grownups know that resisting those initial temptations can go far, money-wise, and that smart financial decisions, starting now, can really pay off in both the short- and long term.

It’s not all willpower, however: Ariel Anderson, one of our CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals, has tips for school-going Grownups who need a little help with budgeting.

Prioritize and Plan
Decide what’s important—prioritize goals, and how soon you’d like to achieve them. Then take a look at where you’ve been spending. Does it match your goals?

Over time, you want to build good spending habits, and sticking to a plan is the way to get there. Here’s how to get started:

1. Jot down every asset. (It may not be much, but don’t get discouraged.) Then, write down everything owed.
2. Determine earnings: What’s coming in? Use a monthly schedule to start tracking.
3. Calculate expenses: What’s outgoing each month?

Then, look ahead.

“Consider how much you earn, owe, and spend on a monthly basis. How much do you have and how long does it have to last?” says Anderson. “Then, take a deeper look and bucket your expenses into wants and needs.  Think of everything—school supplies, transportation costs, dining out from time to time—and see if you can identify any areas to cut out in order to find some wiggle room.”

If your cash flow is negative, get creative about cutting your expenses. Renegotiate your cable contract or share a Netflix account with your best friend. Price shop for groceries instead of accepting the mark-ups at the local convenience store. Maybe even opt for a roommate or cheaper apartment to lower your rent. There are many ways, both big and small, to positively impact on your bottom line. On the flip side, look into getting a side hustle for when you’re not studying. Even a few hours a week will bring in some extra cash!

Embrace the Student Lifestyle
It pays to be aware, and to say no. Resist peer pressure! You don’t need to do every social activity as your friends. To reduce mindless spending, pick and choose only those activities that appeal most to you.

Take advantage of everything you have access to. “Tuition and activity fees often cover a wide range of items, including meal plans, library access, printing services, and gym memberships,” says Anderson. “You already paid for these things, so you might as well use them. And always take advantage of free or low-cost events on campus or around your community. There are tons! For example, I went to college in Boston, and the Boston Public Library gives out free museum passes. Get your friends involved and you’ve found a free social activity.”

Avoid overspending by setting aside money in advance, say $50 at the beginning of the month for coffee. Take advantage of prepaid cards or apps, and once you run out in a given month, it’s done.

Guard your credit card! Be mindful of when you use it and how—and make sure you pay your monthly bill on time.

“Be careful about using your credit card at the bar or opening a tab,” Anderson says. “Instead, take a certain amount of cash out of an ATM and consider that your budget for the night. When you run out of cash, you’re done spending for the evening!”


Society of Grownups is a learning initiative of MassMutual where millennials can educate themselves on the basics of personal finance through a digital platform of online classes, financial calculators and editorial-based advice from financial advisors and personal finance experts. Building a solid foundation of knowledge in personal finance topics such as saving, investing, and taxes can empower Grownups to take action toward their goals. For more information, visit www.societyofgrownups.com.

Any third-party resources or websites referenced above are not under Society of Grownups control. Society of Grownups cannot guarantee and are not responsible for the accuracy of the resources, websites, or any products or services available through such resources or websites.

While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.

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