Welcome to part two of Finances & Budgeting for students, which will hopefully further guide them in managing their finances throughout their college years.
In part one, I dove deep into my personal expense and budgeting routine as well as touched on topics of financial aid, loans, and income. This time, I will cover the surface of some sections from the previous post and will focus more on student budgeting.
As per my usual disclaimer, all information is based on my and my friends’ personal experiences. All products, tools, and resources listed are not sponsored. I have personally used all of them, and for the most part, have had positive experiences with them. I also will not be touching on finances incorporated with cars, clubs & sororities, and studying abroad as I have little to no personal experiences with them.
There’s no doubt that going through college will be one of the most expensive experiences you’ll have in life. From tuition to housing and other personal expenses, there are many variables and options to think about when dealing with where and how to appropriate your money.
I wasn’t an avid spender, but I also wasn’t exactly good at managing my expenses. Living in San Francisco, however, had greatly pushed me to limit my wants and focus on my needs.
COLLEGE TUITION & SUPPLIES
Your college tuition should be the heaviest expense you’ll have each semester. It’s where your scholarships, grants, or other sources of income should automatically go towards first.
Depending on your field of study, you may purchase more or fewer supplies required. But, regardless of major, I suggest bringing at least one pencil/pen and a notebook or note-taking device on your first day of classes. Instructors may switch up the supplies list and request that you get different amounts or types of supplies to class, so avoid over-purchasing before then. Purchase only when you receive confirmation from your instructors about the required supplies.
FOOD & SHELTER
I advise living in a dorm during your first year in college. Dorms automatically provide safety, and some include free dorm-to-campus bus transportation. Living in a dorm your first year brings opportunities to make new friends quickly, especially if you’ll be living with roommates. They also allow you to get comfortable with the school and the environment you’re in. However, they are more expensive than living off-campus.
If you decide to live off-campus, keep in mind the expenses that you now must pay extra attention to and/or additionally pay:
- Security Deposit – Security Deposits are there to pay for any damage within the property, and any leftovers (or full amount if not used) will be reimbursed upon move out.
- Monthly Rent – The highest expense when living in your own apartment.
- Transportation – Public buses, trains, or rideshare going to and from school.
- Utilities – Electricity, gas, water, and/or trash removal.
- Renter’s Insurance – It protects your belongings from damages caused by theft, fire, flooding, or other natural disasters.
- Cable / Internet – Keep in mind that you’ll also need to pay for a router and set-up fees if you’re unable to install it yourself.
- Laundry – Some apartments do include a washroom within the property, while others do not, so you’d have to find one nearest to your place.
- Furniture & Appliances – Many apartments do provide a fridge, stove, microwave, and sometimes bed and couch; though they may be on the more expensive end. Others are completely empty but are cheaper in rent. When deciding whether to go for a furnished or unfurnished apartment, compare the expenses you’ll have for each one and go from there.
- Furnished Apartment PROS:
- Saves the hassle and price of moving heavy furniture when it comes to moving day.
- May still be able to decorate your space, but be sure to ask the apartment managers for any decorating restrictions.
- Reduces stress about having to furnish your apartment.
- Perfect for those who plan on temporary housing
- Furnished Apartment CONS:
- Higher rent payment.
- Must be extra cautious in preserving the items, as any damaged property will be taken out from the renter’s security deposit.
- The quality of furniture may have diminished throughout the years and may not be suitable or in good use for the renter.
- Unfurnished Apartment PROS:
- Lower in rent payment.
- Can furnish the space to your own taste and style.
- Unfurnished Apartment CONS:
- Not suitable for those who aren’t into furniture shopping or decorating.
- Moving out may be a hassle, especially when dealing with heavy furniture.
- Furnished Apartment PROS:
Whether you stay in a dorm or apartment, you would still need to think about your household necessities which are typically weekly, monthly, or one-time purchases (if they’re not yet provided by the dorm or apartment).
Food is a necessity that we should neither limit nor over-indulge ourselves in. I highly suggest investing some of your income on kitchen necessities and eating more home-cooked meals than take-outs, especially when you have a kitchen.
Another option is checking your school’s meal plan options. I opted out of receiving a meal plan personally because I found it more expensive than simply buying my own groceries and cooking.
HEALTH & SELF-CARE
Most of the time, health insurance is required if you live in a dorm. It is a monthly payment that is typically pricey. If either of your parents has insurance, check to see if you can be listed under their insurance plan. Additionally, check with your school about any insurance plans they’re connected with and start using their suggestion. Otherwise, thoroughly research insurance plans available in your area. Find out what they cover (eyes, teeth, checkups, etc.) and how much the copayments are (the amount they pay and what you’ll have to pay).
Our daily routines and to-do lists sometimes take over and we tend to let go of our mental and physical health. We often get busy writing our papers, working on projects, or going to work that we slip up on eating full meals, going to bed on time, taking our vitamins, exercising, or spending quiet moments in nature.
Mental and physical self-care is something we should make a priority in our lives. With everything going on in our lives, we must remind ourselves that we matter and to give ourselves the love only we can provide.
Journal / Sketchbook
I personally find having a journal and writing out my thoughts and feelings was positively impactful towards my mindset and thoughts. Drawing random doodles, even if they’re messy, has helped calm down my thoughts as well. Instead of going straight to your phone or friends to rant about someone or something bad that happened, try writing out your feelings first in a journal. Give yourself time to take a breather and calm your emotions.
Books are available everywhere. Free, borrowed books are available at your school and local libraries. There are tons of free amazing apps to help support young authors and read their stories as well. If you’d like your own paid physical book copies, check out your local bookstores or online.
Candles, essential oils, body wash – they work wonders. Depending on your financial situation, I would suggest getting only one of these types of aromatherapy, as they can be relatively pricey. During school, I’d get at least two aromatherapy candles from Bath & Body Works that would last for a little longer than a semester. I did this by lighting only one wick at a time for less than one hour during the morning and evening.
Most universities offer free gym access for students. If not, there are tons of home workout and yoga videos available for free on YouTube. You can also do a 30-minute walk/jog around your neighborhood every day or some basic stretches as you wait for your food to be done heating up in the microwave. Anything to keep your body active throughout your week.
Hydrate with Water
I do prefer drinking bottled than sink water mainly because I drank bottled water growing up, and I personally find it safer to drink. If you choose to drink sink water, I suggest getting a water filter pitcher. They are pricey, and you would also need to purchase and replace the filter every couple of months. What I did was that since there was a Walgreens conveniently located near my apartment, I’d get at least 2 1-gallon bottled water from there after my class, and store at least 5 bottles in my room all the time, and replace them whenever I’m done with two of them. Three gallons were good for about one week, as I’d occasionally use them for cooking rice as well. I avoided ordering water online because of all of the additional charges, such as delivery and bottle fees.
Unless you have your own car, you would have to think about other means of transportation, whether you’re traveling to and from school or on random trips. If you find yourself having to use public transportation often, I suggest obtaining a bus pass as soon as possible because if not, you’d have to pay the exact amount in cash as there won’t be any place on the bus for change. Most bus passes are obtainable at subway stations, and possibly at your local Walgreens store (which is where I got mine). You’d have to put money in your bus pass and refill it every time you’re low on it. Balances are seen on the bus scanner whenever you enter to make your payment. Bus passes typically provide cheaper fares and discounts.
If you’re rushing to go somewhere (such as the airport) or have a late-night class and you live far away, I recommend taking rideshare as they get you to your destination much quicker. ALWAYS double-check the license plate and have the driver say your name before entering the car.
Research your city’s public transport system and read through them about their bus passes and how you can obtain one if you find them beneficial for you.
I’m not sure about the fares in other states and cities, but in the Bay Area, one adult bus fare using Clipper Card (bus pass) is $2.50; $3.00 if paying in cash. These amounts are good for 120 minutes of travel. You would have to still tap your pass whenever you enter a new bus or train. If you’re in the Bay Area, you can check out the SFMTA website for more information about getting around the city and its fares.
In my experience, rideshare fares vary by distance and busyness. In the Bay Area, we have an extra option of sharing the price with 1-2 other passengers, thus paying a much cheaper fare. A 20-minute solo ride at around 3:00 PM would averagely cost around $35.00+.
Fares are typically the same as the buses.
You can find detailed explanations for these in part one!
- Technology (laptop, earphones/headphones, external hard drive, flash drive, mouse, printer, ink, paper)
- Laundry (detergent, softener, dryer sheets, mesh bags, laundry bag)
- Home (kitchen, bathroom, bedroom)
Earnings may come from a variety of opportunities and sources and are recommended to be used for school, personal expenses, or to add to your savings account. Use your earnings number to be the baseline of how much you’ll be spending every week, month, or semester. Below are a couple of ways of earning money while at school.
Financial support can come from your parents, relatives, or anyone who’s providing you money to help pay for your educational and personal needs. Whoever they are, it is important to talk to them and go over any and all financial arrangements you’ll have throughout the time they plan on supporting you. Be clear and concise about what expenses they’ll cover and which ones they won’t. Ask and finalize any conditions they may have, such as maintaining a certain GPA for them to continue supporting you or having to work for them during the summer.
If they don’t mention it right away or at all, don’t be afraid to ask about how you can repay them back. If they don’t have an answer or just genuinely want to help you, consider paying their kindness forward. This means that once you’re financially stable, help out someone else in need.
SCHOLARSHIPS & GRANTS
Applying for as many scholarship and grant awards is highly advisable, especially if you want to avoid student loans. Every scholarship and grant has different requirements and restrictions. Some may be used for tuition only, while others for housing only. Be sure to read through each of them thoroughly, and don’t be afraid to contact the organizations to help clarify anything you’re unsure of with their program, requirements, or application.
To reiterate some tips on applying for scholarships and grants –
- Apply early
- Apply for local scholarships
- Use scholarship search tools
- Apply for scholarships with fewer amounts & more requirements
- Get personal
- Follow all the requirements
- Apply, apply, apply – You can continue applying even when the semesters have begun.
- Keep deadlines in mind
- Practice your interview skills
- Beware of scholarship & grant scams
- Don’t give up
Be checking your school email for grant offers from your own school and contact your financial aid advisor for any additional information they may have on where and how to apply for scholarships.
JOBS, INTERNSHIPS & WORK-STUDY PROGRAMS
Ask your advisor for any work-study opportunities at your school, which include positions at the school library, office, or dorms. All resident assistants were students at my school, and they definitely had their own perks, such as free room and board. Work-study is a program by FAFSA that allows students to get a job within or outside the campus. Work hours are typically tailored around the students’ class schedules. The program won’t cover all school expenses, but it does help lessen the amount you take out from loans. If you’re looking for flexible part-time work, work-study is an opportunity to consider.
Not all internships are paid, but you’ll still gain additional experience in the work field, and possibly in the program that you’re in. Talk with your advisor about possible internship opportunities and how you can get started with them. One of my favorite places to look for internships is on LinkedIn. Similar to getting a job, you will have to go through an application, and possibly an interview, process. Your program may also offer to have your internship included in your course credits.
Having a job while studying is beneficial in which you can learn to manage your time better, earn income, and gain work experience (even if the job doesn’t match the program you’re in). If you prefer focusing on your studies and are financially supported by someone else, but you’d still like to earn on your own, summer jobs and freelancing are options to think about. Keep in mind that the difficulty level of your classes increases as you move forward in your program, so you’d have to really manage your time if you plan on taking a job that requires a lot of your time and energy.
To reiterate other venues of earning –
- Start a Blog/Website
- Get Rebates for Groceries
- Become a Driver / Food Delivery
- Check out Fiverr
- Be a YouTube Vlogger
- Sell Your Creations
- Sell Your Textbooks
- Sell Belongings You No Longer Use
- Edit or Proofread Other Students’ Papers
- Do Online Design Work
- Fill Out Online Surveys
So now that we’ve identified the most important college student expenses as well as earnings, I’m going to talk about the most useful ways that have helped me plan out and organize my average semester budgeting.
WAYS TO SAVE MONEY
Identify Needs & Wants
I know how difficult it is to distinguish needs and wants sometimes. I’ve been in this situation multiple times and it gets frustrating. In order to help further identify our needs and wants, I’ve taken all of my, and other general, expenses and categorized them into three categories: needs, wants, and conditions.
Needs are what we need to survive.
Wants help us live more comfortably.
Conditions are mostly wants but may become a need in specific situations, such as needing new clothes for a job interview or needing additional supplies for a club that you’re a member of.
The list below is based on my own personal financial and living situations. Feel free to look at my list for reference, and create one based off of your experience.
Create A Routine
Creating a routine helps control how much you go out and spend every week. Choose a work-free day out of your week to do your grocery shopping and laundry, and stick to it.
Check if your local grocery mart offers membership cards and request to have one. Most of the time, they are free to obtain. Membership cards offer pretty decent discounts on items, and will greatly help you save. When going grocery shopping, reusable grocery bags are the way to go. You’re saving the planet by avoiding plastic and paper bags.
Also, do make a list before going and do your best to stick to that list. You get to spend less time at the store and avoid purchasing items you don’t need. As soon as you run out of something, quickly jot it down so as to not forget it, or before heading off to the store, double-check your inventory to see what you need to purchase.
Only get groceries you know you can finish by the next time you go grocery shopping. Pay attention to expiration dates, as well as promotional sales, to do your shopping.
What I’d do is make a master list of all the things I purchase weekly and monthly on my Keep Notes app, and put the “alert” emoji in between the brackets of the items that I do need for that week.
Make your financial aid refund last
Financial aid refund is there to assist you with your educational needs, including food and household necessities. Avoid using it for personal wants, such as providing a down payment for a car or purchasing new clothes. The more you can save, the more you can eventually use them to start paying back your student loans or invest in your goals or business.
Create a savings account
Avoid withdrawing or transferring money from there. Use it as your emergency fund. If you have a job, try saving at least $50 in there every payday, and increase that amount every time you get an increase in your salary. If you choose to do so, include your financial aid refund here.
It’s okay to say no
I get it. Your friends are all hanging out at a restaurant or bar or the movie theatre, and you want to join them whether it’s to keep up with your social life or keep your friends. It’s okay to not join them. It’s okay to have a night in. When you say no, you’re not saying it to your friends and you’re not degrading your financial status. You’re saying no to a lifestyle you prefer to not live by and you’re taking care of your financial status.
Take advantage of your student status
Be mindful that just because your student status will give you discounts, that doesn’t warrant a splurge on items that are on your want list.
Do not compare
One of the ways you can really fall under a spending spree is by comparing your items with those of your roommates or classmates. You’ll think they have better things than you or that because they have the latest version of something, you’re going to be behind and so you feel that you “need” the latest version as well. Please don’t ever think this way. Everyone’s financial situation is different. Instead of comparing what you don’t have with them, be grateful for what you do have. Be grateful that you’re even there attending the university of your dreams, and being part of a program that will help you achieve your goals. The more grateful you are in life, the more you’ll feel that you already have everything you need and want in life.
HOW TO BUDGET
Budgeting may be a difficult concept to grasp and practice at first, like many new habits we try to acquire in life; but with persistence, determination, and self-discipline, you’ll be able to budget masterfully.
These tips have worked for me throughout my years of schooling till now. You are welcome to follow them, or tweak them, or not doing anything with them.
Always go with what works for you.
Check your bank account daily
I’d do this at least twice a day – morning and evening. It could be helpful if you’re doing automated billings. You can make sure that your payments are made through or not. You can also see if there were any unexpected charges that you can resolve with your bank right away.
List down your expenses
A straightforward and simple way to budget is to write out all of your expenses for the month into one spreadsheet, or the template I created below. For any fixed expenses, list them down right away, and for variable expenses, you can save your receipts and do this once a week or by the end of the month. By doing this, you’re keeping track of what you spend your money on, how much you spend, and how often you spend throughout the month.
Description – The name of the expense and/or bill and any other information you’d like to include about it.
Date – Of the bill or when you’ve made an expense.
Payment Method – Options can be scholarships, credit cards, cash, PayPal, or other forms of payment you use.
Pay To – Company/store name, or name of an individual to whom you’re directly paying the amount.
Need – A fixed expense that is required for human survival.
Want – A variable expense that is desired for human comfort.
Automatic – Is the expense set up for automatic payments?
Amount – Total amount of money paid.
Paid – This can be identified as paid off with a checkmark or any other symbol that works for you to verify that the bill has been paid off.
Track your money
Recording your income and expenses allows you to keep track of your earnings, and on what and how much of those you spend every month. When you see that you’ve spent a lot in one week, you can tell yourself to be a little more conservative the next week. There are digital tools available online that can help track your spending. One I’ve heard greatly of is Mint. I personally prefer Microsoft Excel or my journal to record my expenses. Below is a sample layout of how I typically record them. Feel free to print this one out or copy the layout on a spreadsheet.
Overestimate your expenses
It is always a good mindset and habit to assume that you’ll be spending more than you actually are because it means you’ll be prepared for any unforeseen changes to a bill or other expense.
Save at least 10% of your earnings/income
Money does not grow on trees, but if you’re able to save a lot of them, you’re growing your abundance.
Pay in cash for smaller expenses
Paying in cash helps you be more aware of how much you’re spending. Set aside some weekly cash and use that as your allowance for the week, similar to when you were in elementary school. $40 or less is a good amount to have as your weekly cash allowance.
Look for free events
If you want to meet new people, socialize, or try different experiences, universities often offer free event entries for their students.
If you don’t know how to cook, ask a relative or friend who knows some easy recipes to help get you started. When I started cooking on my own, I asked my mom and cousin for recipes. I also found some recipes on Yummly. There are tons of other websites and apps that you can search for easily cooked meals.
What this is, and how I do it, is to take at least $20 in cash and put it in my extra wallet that’s placed deep among my belongings. I typically forget about it afterward, but whenever I’d gain some extra cash, I’d remember about my hidden money and add to it. Normally when things are not easily seen or within our grasp, we don’t go to it right away and often let them be, which is the purpose of the hidden money. Use this for extreme or unforeseen emergencies, such as if a roommate unexpectedly moves out.
I actually didn’t have a credit card until I graduated from college last year but if I’m being honest, I probably would’ve treated my credit card as a student the same way I’m treating it now outside of school. I personally don’t see credit cards as some kind of easy spending money because in my mind, I know I’d have to pay the money back anyway. Plus, I only have one in order to build up my credit score.
CREDIT CARD TIPS FOR STUDENTS
Get a cash-back credit card
Just as the name implies, these types of cards allow you to earn money on the purchase you make, along with other cash-back incentives or rewards.
Apply for only one credit card
You may be tempted to apply for all the other credit card offers that arrive in your mail because their offers seem too good to pass up but pass them up. If you’re free from financial debt, you wouldn’t want to start accruing them, and if you’re already on student loans, you shouldn’t build upon them. Every new credit card application lowers your credit score. And, by having only one credit card, you further decrease your want to spend, and it’ll be easier for you to keep track of what you owe.
Read through the terms and conditions
Pay extra attention to any fees and interest rates. $0 annual fees are already a step up in choosing a card but continue reading through the additional terms and agreements of the card.
Instead of looking at your credit limit, look at your checking account amount
It does not matter if I’m given a $3,000 credit limit, if my checking account is about $1,000, I still won’t be spending over $400 on my credit card. For the most part, I prioritize my credit card to pay my bills, and rarely do I use it for anything else.
Stay under your credit limit
If you focus more on the money in your checking account and not your credit limit, you should be able to stay below it. You will be charged with interest for going above, and typically at a high amount. Stay below 30% of your credit limit to maximize credit score gain.
Pay your balance in full every month
You’ll stay out of debt, manage your finances better, and control your spending. If not, there could be extra fees waiting to appear. And, you probably wouldn’t want that.