How to Successfully Budget Your Money in College (Step-By-Step Walkthrough)

Budgeting in college is an excellent way to start making positive financial decisions. If you set yourself up for success while in school, it’ll help you maintain good habits later on.

Learn how to budget your money now, and you’ll be able to pay off loans and put money away in savings. If you’re successful, you’ll have extra money for fun, too!

Hey, no one said you couldn’t have a little fun, even though you’re busy with your education!

But before you can do that, it’s essential to learn how to keep track of your finances. Here’s a walk through on how to budget your money and make wise financial decisions.

1. Take Inventory of Funds Coming In

It’s hard to make smart spending decisions if you don’t know how much money you have. Take some time to figure out how much money you have to work with every week and beyond.

Your funds may include:

  • Money from scholarships, loans, and grants
  • Cash from a part-time job
  • A stipend for being a resident assistant
  • Savings account money
  • An allowance from your parents
  • Cash from a side gig, such as tutoring

Knowing how much money you have will tell you how much money you need to budget moving forward.

Figure out how much to spend and save based on your current allowance and bills. If things change, make sure to adjust your budget.

2. Use Leftover Financial Aid Carefully

If you have student loans, you may have some leftover funds to use for personal expenses.

With any leftover money, be careful about how you spend it. First, apply your financial aid money to tuition and fees. With anything remaining, it’d be smart to spend it on things like transportation and textbooks.

If you still have some money left after that, spend it on personal items. But, think twice before splurging on movie tickets or going out to dinner.

Remember that you’ll have to pay off the loan, which is why you should be selective about how you spend the money.

3. Get a Roommate

If you live in an apartment away from campus, consider getting a roommate. You might enjoy living solo, but living with roommates has one major perk:

You can save more money!

By splitting the cost of rent with someone else, you’ll have a higher balance in your bank account at the end of each month. And if you split groceries, electricity, and other expenses, you can save even more.

Save on living expenses, and you’ll have extra money to spend on other things.

Now, when you look for a roommate, make sure they’re financially responsible. The last thing you need is to find out your new roommate can’t pay rent.

Also, try to find someone you get along with. If you can find someone who you enjoy being around, that’s ideal.

Finding a roommate shouldn’t be hard. After all, you’re probably not the only person on campus who wants to save on rent!

4. Don’t Spend a Lot on Food

We know how tempting it is to spend a lot of money on food, especially if you live in an area with a lot of great restaurants.

Plus, if you’re a social person, it’s natural to want to eat and drink around other people.

But if your friends like to go out to dinner a lot, you should forgo the expensive meals. That doesn’t mean you can’t go out with friends. But, be careful about what you order.

Consider splitting a meal with a friend. Or, only go out to eat on discount nights. There are a lot of ways you can still have fun without spending a ton of money.

Of course, you need to eat. Budget your finances so you can eat healthy and affordable meals. Don’t give in to pressure to spend a lot on food when you can make meals at home.

Plus, there’s always the option of eating in the college cafeteria. If you have a meal plan, that’s definitely the most cost-effective option.

If you don’t have a meal plan, take a look at the prices in your cafeteria. Some college cafeterias are very expensive, so you might never want to eat there.

Don’t sacrifice nutrition to save money, but do save on food whenever possible. It’ll be worth it!

5. Cut the Cord (on Cable)

Don’t spend $100 a month on cable! That’s highway robbery!

Instead, cut the cord and subscribe to a streaming service like Netflix.

If you can’t live without TV, there are other options, such as SlingTV and AT&T TV Now.

Do some comparison shopping based on the channels and shows you like to watch. If you mainly watch television shows, then Hulu or Amazon Prime might be a good fit for you. If movies are more your thing, then Netflix might be the ticket.

Also, consider sharing a streaming account with your roommates. Most services allow you to have multiple users on an account, so you can have entertainment access for just a few bucks a month.

You may not be able to watch everything your little heart desires. But that’s what Redbox is for. There’s a Redbox location in nearly every college town, so you can swing by and pick up a DVD whenever you want to see the latest releases.

It’s important to have some entertainment, but not if your wallet suffers.

6. Pay Your Credit Cards on Time

Do you have credit cards? Pay your bills every month! And pay them on time, too, or you’ll get smacked with late fees.

If you procrastinate on payments, it will affect your credit. You don’t want to leave college with a bad credit score!

You’re probably already in debt from college tuition. So, the last thing you want is to be indebted to the credit card companies, too. Therefore, it’s crucial to pay your bills by (or even before) the due date.

If you can’t pay off the balance in its entirety by the due date, at least pay the minimum.


You may be tempted to put extra expenses on credit cards, but it’s best not to do that. The more you put on your card, the more you’ll be responsible for at the end of the month.

Having one or two credit cards is smart to build your credit. What’s not smart is allowing the convenience of credit cards to drive you into debt.

Be smart about credit card spending, and don’t do anything now that you’ll regret in the future.

7. Make Your Own Coffee

Can’t live without your coffee? We get it.

No matter how old you are, there’s nothing like a tasty cup of Joe! It helps to wake you up and gets you off to a good start every morning. And, as a college student, coffee can be your saving grace during those long nights of studying.

However, coffee can put a big dent in your wallet.

If you only drink expensive cups from Starbucks or a local coffee shop, you may be wasting money.

Sure it’s nice to head to Starbucks in the morning, but spending $2 or more on coffee will add up over time.

To solve this, only treat yourself to Starbucks coffee when you have something to celebrate. Or, give yourself a weekly coffee allowance so you won’t overspend.

Making coffee at your apartment is a better alternative to buying a coffee every day.

Do the math, and you’ll quickly realize how much those daily coffees cost!

8. Use a Tracking Tool

One of the best ways to track your finances is to log your expenses.

Digital tracking tools can help you see how much you’re spending. All you have to do is download one to your phone and use it to track your purchases.

Here are a few budgeting apps to check out:

  • EveryDollar, which is excellent for zero-based budgeting.
  • Clarity Money keeps track of every dollar you spend.
  • Mint is fantastic at encouraging you to save money.
  • PocketGuard provides a nice snapshot of your budget.
  • Goodbudget is ideal if you like envelope-budgeting.

Tracking tools are useful in more ways than one. They’ll help you keep yourself accountable, but they’ll also warn you when you’re close to your spending limit.

Observe your money habits and figure out ways to save. See which items are costing you the most. This should incentivize you to cut back or figure out cheaper alternatives.

If you spend a lot on movie tickets, for example, you may need to limit yourself. Instead, wait until it comes out on DVD and catch it on Netflix or Redbox. That’s a lot cheaper than movie tickets these days!

9. Have an Emergency Fund

Yes, your budget should also include an emergency fund.

If you end up in a bind and have a tight month, an emergency fund will come in handy.

As we’ve been discussing, it’s crucial to find ways to spend less. Whether it’s cutting down on your food bill or riding your bike to school instead of driving, there are things you can do to save cash.

When you do spend less money, reward yourself by putting some of that cash in the bank. Set up an emergency fund and don’t touch it unless absolutely necessary. There’s a reason it’s called an emergency fund, not an “I’m going to borrow some money whenever I feel like it,” fund.

So, whenever possible, put some money away and save it for a rainy day. You never know when it may come in handy!

Bonus: Automate Your Investments

Don’t wait until you graduate to start investing your money. By investing during college, you can get a headstart on your financial future.

If you’re not sure where to start, take a class at school or online.

Or, if you have a friend or family member who’s willing to coach you, take them up on their offer. You might even know a finance major who can give you some advice. There’s also the option of getting a financial advisor.

Whether you get help or decide to go solo, do your research. You should make sound investment decisions that will benefit your future.

When you start investing, set your account up so it automatically withdraws funds from your bank every month. That way, you won’t be tempted to spend your investment money on anything else.

Remember, consistency is key! Religiously invest money every month and, within a few years, you’ll have a nice little nest egg.

In Conclusion

It may seem impossible to graduate free of debt. But if you budget well, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

You might still have student loans, but at least you can keep them down or start paying them off while you’re in school.

Your financial decisions will determine your spending habits in the future. So, start making positive decisions today.

As a reminder, here are a few ways to budget your money while you’re in college:

  • Take an inventory of your income
  • Use your financial aid wisely
  • Live with a roommate to save on living costs
  • Limit the amount you spend on food
  • Get rid of cable and subscribe to a streaming service
  • Pay your credit card bills on time
  • Make coffee at home
  • Use an app to track your spending
  • Keep an emergency fund
  • Invest your money in stocks or other outlets

There are many other ways to save money that we didn’t cover in this article, so keep looking for new ways to cut costs.

Come up with a money-saving plan of attack and stick with it throughout your college years. By successfully budgeting, you’ll come out with a shiny degree AND some money in the bank!