By Charlestien Harris
So, you have graduated from high school. Congratulations! Many of you are now college bound, which means leaving the family nest for the first time and becoming responsible for your financial well-being. College means paying for tuition and fees, as well as budgeting for housing, food, books, and incidentals. Wow, I have said a mouth full, and I know that can sound overwhelming. But learning how to create a college student budget to survive financially does not have to be a stressful task.
Creating a college budget is key to managing your money and ensuring you do not overspend. By becoming financially literate, you can create and maintain a budget that helps you accomplish the financial goals you set. Your current spending habits – meaning, what you buy and how you choose to pay for those things – definitely impacts your current financial situation, but also your future finances as well.
Let’s take a look at a few tips to get you started on your budgeting journey.
Make a list of your income. The first step to making an effective college student budget is breaking down your income. Knowing the source of your income is critical because it will let you know how much money you have to start with. This list could include financial contributions from family members put toward your educational expenses, scholarships, grants, student loans, work-study and outside employment. This is not a complete list, but it does give you an idea of what sources of income to include in your budget.
Assess, categorize, and organize your expenses. Begin by making a list of the expenses you know you will incur during the year (books, tuition, etc.). You can break it down by semester if you like. You should also make a list of all the things you spend money on in a typical month and the average cost of each item. Categorize these expenses by labeling them as either a “need” or a “want.” Be sure to leave room for emergencies and unexpected costs.
Figure out your bottom line. Now that you have organized your expenses, it is time to do the math! Start by adding all your expenses and then subtract that number from your monthly income. If the final number you get is negative, that means that you are spending more money than you have available each month. If the number is positive, you have extra money to spend or put toward your savings and emergency fund. Then, look through your expenses to see what items you can adjust or cut from your list. This step can be time consuming, but getting your finances under control is definitely worth the effort.
Keep track of how much debt you are accumulating. This will be important because it will determine how much of your income you will be able to spend and how much of your income will need to be applied to the debt you have accumulated. It can be easy to forget about a
budget when you choose to live off a seemingly endless supply of loan money, but keep in mind: a loan is not free money. Actually, it is the debt you have acquired to pay for your education, and it does add up very quickly. Usually about six months after graduation, you have to start paying that money back, with interest.
The college years are usually your first steps into adulthood, and if you don’t want to have debt overload as you work toward your degree, then learn how to create a budget. The challenge for college students is not establishing a budget, but rather sticking to it. The basic principle of budgeting is to never spend more money than you earn or have available. Otherwise, you can run the risk of burying yourself in debt that might be difficult to pay off once you find employment after college.
Creating a budget while in college can help you avoid making those same financial mistakes in adulthood. College is supposed to be about learning, and there are many lessons to learn about money through budgeting. Just remember to start small. Give yourself a weekly budget and see how close you come to accurately estimating expenses. By the end of your first semester, you should have a very good idea of how much you can spend in each category and where you have room to make any necessary adjustments. There are many budgeting apps and websites available that can help (such as Southern’s very own Wealthable), and you should do your own research to find out which one works best for your needs. For more information on this and other financial topics, please email me at Charlestien.firstname.lastname@example.org, or call me at 662-624-5776.
Until next week — stay financially fit!
Charlestien Harris is a financial contributor to DeSoto County News. She is a financial expert with Southern Bancorp Community Partners whose articles are seen in a number of publications around the region. You’ll be seeing her columns weekly on the DeSoto County News website and our social media channels.