Golden Eagle Experience

Budgeting in College

The holidays can quickly become an expensive time of year; from parties with friends and families to holiday gifts and travel, your finances may be stretched thin. Besides the costly holiday season, being a first-year college student likely means that you may be starting to make your own financial decisions while also living on a limited income. The use of some simple budgeting tips can help you easily manage your finances so that you can focus on your academics.


Track Your Spending. When starting out, it is important to know what areas you are spending in. Are most of your expenses related to dining out, rent, clothes, or nail appointments? Tracking where your money is going will help you better understand your habits and where you might need to tweak your spending. You might be surprised how much you are actually spending on certain categories each month!

Use a Budgeting App. Using digital tools, such as budgeting apps makes tracking your finances and reaching your budgeting goals easy. NerdWallet recommends apps such as Mint and YNAB (You Need a Budget), but there are many other options out there. Apps such as these help you track your expenses by placing them in certain categories and will let you know when you are approaching your limit for each category. Some budgeting apps also let you create savings goals and have reporting features that will show income vs. expenses, spending trends, and even your net worth. Learn more about NerdWallet’s top 8 budgeting apps for 2023!

Know Your Income Sources. Whether you are living on or off campus, sources of income will help you be able to afford the cost of living while in college, in addition to some extra “fun money.” Ask yourself where you are deriving income from: Are your parents or family contributing to certain expenses? Is your student loan helping to fund your cost of living? Do you have a part-time job or side hustle? While your main job during college is to be a successful student, there are some options for creating income sources that can still allow you to focus on your academics, such as an on-campus job (check Handshake for opportunities) or finding ways to monetize a hobby or something you are really good at.

Spend Below Your Means. Once you figure out what sources of income you have, make sure that your spending is less than your monthly income. If you don’t have a monthly income, divide your current funds by the amount of time you expect to live off that money to determine your monthly allotment. Spending less than what you bring in each month will ensure you have some money set aside for savings and emergencies and will help keep you out of debt.

Create Financial Goals & Set Aside Savings. Have you thought about what your financial goals are for the future? While a down payment for a house may seem far into the future, the earlier you start thinking about your personal financial goals, the easier it will be to achieve them. While these goals may evolve as you and your budget grow and change, setting aside money for future goals and savings will help set you up for success in the future!

Start Building Your Credit. While building credit may not seem like a priority right now, it’s important to understand that your credit score can affect your ability to rent an apartment, buy a car or house in the future, etc. While credit cards are a personal choice and they definitely require a certain level of self-discipline, they can be a great way to start building credit. Credit cards can help you navigate your monthly budget and track your spending. Another great benefit is that when you make a charge, the funds aren't automatically withdrawn from your bank account, making it much easier to contest fraudulent charges.

That being said, credit cards are also really easy to go into debt over. According to a recent Forbes article, Americans hold $925 billion in credit card debt, with the average credit card balance being somewhere around $6,000. So, just because a credit card gives you a $5,000 credit limit, doesn’t mean you actually have $5,000 in your budget or income to spend. If you do decide to get a credit card, it is really important to still ensure that you are spending below your means and that you are able to pay it off in full every month to avoid late fees and damaging your credit score.

If you are interested in exploring credit cards, checkout NerdWallet’s “6 Excellent Student Credit Cards of 2022.” If you are hesitant to get your own card, talk with your parents about having them add you as an authorized user on one of theirs. This method will still allow you to build some individual credit, while your parents help you navigate the responsibilities associated with credit cards. Not all credit cards are the same, so when researching credit cards or considering applying for one, it’s important to do your own research about the terms and what may be a good fit for you.




Disclaimer: The information provided by the Office of New Student & Family Programs in this article is for general informational purposes only. All information in this article is provided in good faith to help students start thinking about their budgeting habits; however, this site does not contain professional financial advice and is not a substitute for professional advice. When it comes to personal financial decisions, it is always important to do your own research and speak with a professional financial advisor when necessary.
This site may also include links to external websites or content belonging to other organizations. Such links are not continuously checked for accuracy, validity, reliability, or completeness by the Office of New Student & Family Programs, and we do not assume responsibility for information provided through these websites.

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