Setting up an effective, realistic budget is just one of the many important life skills that school never properly teaches you how to master. Everybody is so focused on landing their dream job one day that building proper financial habits can get swept under the rug. However, no matter how high your salary, anyone can experience money problems if proper financial habits aren’t in place.
Everyone is different, and, therefore, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all budgeting worksheet. That’s why it’s important to experiment and see which budgeting method works best for you and your current situation and goals.
This article will discuss the importance of budgeting for students and explain several simple budget worksheets to help you improve your money management skills and take control of your personal finances.
What to Include in a Simple Personal Budget
A budget can be a great tool to help you reach your financial goals. It consists of your income and expenses for a given period and requires you to keep close track of all the money you bring in versus all the money you spend. A budget allows you to gain a better understanding of your financial situation and take control of your financial goals.
With time, sticking to your budget and forming better spending habits can help you save money and start building an emergency savings fund. This is necessary to reach financial security and prevent small emergencies from putting a large financial strain on you. It will also help you recover faster from any unexpected emergencies.
A vital part of setting up a budget is to make sure you are being realistic and accurate. If you’re being too drastic in cutting back on expenses, following your student budget will be short-lived, and you’ll give up before reaping any of the benefits. If you overestimate your income, your budget will hit a stumbling block, and this could also be demotivating. Always remember that making small but lasting steps toward your goals is a more sure way to reach success.
The first step to taking control of your financial future is to track your monthly income. Knowing how much money you have at your disposal each month will help you assign a purpose to each dollar and prevent unnecessary spending.
Your income includes all the money you make during the month, whether from a job, a monthly stipend from your parents or if you just sold something. If your income varies considerably from month to month, it’s best to use a low estimate when planning your monthly budget. This way, you’ll be prepared in case your income is a little lower than usual without having to end up pinching your pennies.
Tracking your expenses is the most important part of the budgeting process. It will allow you to evenly distribute your income throughout the month, monitor areas where you tend to overspend and plan to put some money away in your savings.
Most expenses fall into two categories: recurring and variable expenses. Recurring expenses tend to be a fixed amount each month, such as your rent payment or cellphone bill. These types of expenses are easy to budget for since you know how much you’ll have to pay. Variable expenses tend to be harder to budget for since they vary from month to month. Variable expenses include things like your grocery bill or how much you spend going out with friends.
It can be wise to see your savings account as an expense, as well. As you would pay your bills, put a fixed amount toward your savings account each month. This will help you stay constant in saving money and reach your financial goals faster.
Common Budget Considerations for Students
College students generally have different kinds of expenses than most people who are later in their lives with established careers. These expenses not only include tuition but also pricey school books at the beginning of the semester, student housing, school meal plans, some money to go out with friends, transportation, and the list goes on.
College life can be expensive, and most students have a much lower income than non-students due to time constraints (studying will take up most of your time, so working full-time will be hard) and not having a degree yet. This makes managing your money extra important.
Simple Budgets for Students
There are many types of budgets available to help you manage your finances.
- The first one we’ll be discussing is a simple income/expense budget, where you compare your total income to your total expenses and make sure there is room for saving.
- The second method is called the 50/30/20 budget, which ultimately boils down to distributing specific portions of your total income to needs, wants and savings.
- The student loan payoff budget makes adjustments to the 50/30/20 budget to ensure you plan for your student loan payments.
- Lastly, the zero-based budget assigns a purpose to every dollar so that your income minus your expenses equals zero.
Simple Income/Expense Budget
This type of budget is simple and effective. First, determine your total income for the month. If you work hourly or it’s not a fixed amount for a different reason, take an estimate. As mentioned, make sure your estimate is on the lower end so that you can be prepared for a worst-case scenario.
Second, determine your recurring monthly expenses. These are fixed expenses, and generally, you can’t make any adjustments to them. Next, determine your variable expenses. These are the types of expenses you can adjust if you need to cut back on your spending.
Lastly, subtract your total expenses from your total income. If you get a positive number, then congratulations! You have money left over to save at the end of the month. If you are breaking even, you can cover all expenses, but there’s no room for savings. If the amount is negative, revisit your variable expenses and try to trim them down.
This type of budget plan is a good goal to work toward for students. The objective is to divide your income so that 50% goes to living expenses and needs, 30% goes to wants, such as spending money on hobbies or going out with friends, and 20% goes straight toward savings.
Again, this type of budget should be seen as a goal to work toward since many students only work part-time and don’t make enough income to follow this budget entirely. Keeping this in mind will prevent you from getting discouraged and help you make more manageable strides toward your financial goals.
Student Loan Payoff Budget
Paying off student loans can be a big stress factor for many students. It can also be hard to determine what your monthly loan payments will be and how much you’ll need to earn to prevent your loans from becoming a big financial strain. A loan payment calculator can give you an estimate to work with. If you’ve exhausted your financial aid — including grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and federal student loans — private loans can help make up the difference.
To budget for your student loan payments, small changes can be made to the 50/30/20 budgeting method. Cut back your wants to 20% and your savings to 10%. This way, you can allocate 20% of your total income to paying off your student loans. If you want to make an even bigger payment, and you are willing to forego a larger portion of your wants, then adjust accordingly. Remember that it’s always wise to pay more than the minimum payment required, and this is the case with credit card debt, as well.
If it’s possible, start making payments toward your student loans while in school, no matter how small. This could have a drastic impact on the amount of compounding interest over the years. The earlier you start managing your college debt, the better.
The Zero-Based Budget
Simply put, the zero-based budgeting method requires your income and expenses to match. This means that if you subtract your expenses from your income, the answer should be zero. Following a zero-based budget will require you to be very diligent in tracking your income and expenses to be accurate.
If your expenses exceed your income, you will have to find ways to increase your income or decrease your variable expenses. If your income exceeds your expenses, you’ll need to find a place to allocate the extra money to, for example, your savings. Once you keep close track of your expenses, it’s much easier to make smarter financial decisions and save money.
This type of budget helps you know where your money goes and assigns a purpose to every dollar. There is no more losing track of your spending, and no more feeling helpless to control your spending. If you are in need of building better financial habits, this budget is a great place to start.
Learn More About Student Finances at CollegeFinance.com
College can be intimidating, and many students feel left in the dark and overwhelmed. It’s a big investment, so you want to ensure that you make the right decisions and use all resources at your disposal.
CollegeFinance.com has additional resources for college students to make the most of your college investment and improve your money skills. Not in college just yet? Start planning to optimize your finances before you become a college student.