How To Build A College Budget

By Bethany Fischer on September 7, 2021

This article is brought to you by GradGuard. We protect college students and their families from the financial risks of college life, like providing a refund for tuition or replacing a stolen backpack when your school may not. When the unexpected happens, GradGuard’s tuition insurance and renters insurance can help you get back on track.

Building a college budget can be difficult for young students. College is the first time that many people become responsible for managing their own money. If you’ve never built a budget before, building a college budget can seem overwhelming.

The good news is that you aren’t alone. There are several easy ways for students to make their own budget and gain financial independence. Here are some tips for building the perfect college budget.

1. Talk it out

Having the money talk can be awkward. However, it is a necessary conversation that students need to have before building their college budget. You need to know what your financial situation looks like so you can accurately save and anticipate future problems. It’s also helpful to speak to someone with more experience so you can learn more about finances and money management.

Start by talking to your parents or guardians. Is anyone contributing to your tuition or other college needs? If so, what is the dollar amount of their contribution? You will need to know what you are expected to contribute financially. Some students are lucky enough to have parents or beneficiaries fully support them through college. Many aren’t as fortunate and may need to consider applying for financial aid. All of these factors need to be considered before you build your college budget.

2. List your expenses

Once you know what your financial expectations are, it is time to list your expenses. It is important to anticipate what your monthly spending will be so that your college budget will cover your needs. This will allow you to physically see all of the things you will need to pay for so that you can start planning accordingly.

To build an accurate college budget, your list of expenses should include:

  • Tuition and fees

  • Textbooks and supplies

  • Living expenses/ utilities

  • Food

  • Clothing

  • Transportation

  • Fun money

Some of these may vary depending on your situation. For example, if you live on campus and have a meal plan, you won’t need to worry about things like utilities, transportation, or food. And, while most of your budget should go to important expenses, always try and give yourself some expendable money. College is stressful, so be sure to set aside some money so you can destress with your friends.

3. Track your spending

Now that you’ve made a list of possible expenses, it’s time to put your college budget to the test. Tracking your spending may be the most important part of building your college budget. All of that planning will go to waste if you aren’t keeping up with how much money you are spending every month. Tracking your spending will allow you to see where you need to make adjustments in your budget and keep you from making poor financial decisions.

There are several ways to track your budget. Most banks have apps that list your transactions, and some may mail you paper reports. Apps such as Mint are good resources that track your spending right from your smartphone. If these methods don’t work for you, you can always keep a journal and physically track all of your transactions. Your college budget should work for you. You will only know if it works if you track your spending.

4. Budget for the future

Going to college is an investment into your future. However, this is not the only decision you can make to set yourself up for future success. A smart college budget will not only take care of your immediate expenses but will also allow you to build savings. Believe it or not, it is possible to save money while in school, even if you aren’t working full time.

There are certain things students can do to make room in their college budget for savings. Making cuts where you can is one of the easiest things you can do. This is why tracking your budget is so important. Other things that can help free up money include

  • Buying used textbooks

  • Seeking out student discounts

  • Participating in free activities

  • Taking advantage of school-sponsored resources

  • Being responsible with credit cards

You shouldn’t cut out all of the things that you enjoy for the sake of saving money. As stated earlier, it is important to have fun in college, which sometimes costs money. However, you can still make smart financial decisions that will help you include savings in your college budget.


Money can be a sore subject for many people. This is especially true when it comes to college since it can be a huge expense. The best thing that you can do to make the financial aspects of college less stressful is to build a college budget. Talking about money, listing your expenses, tracking your spending, and budgeting for the future are all vital tools to help make your college budget work for you.

Financial independence is one of the many lessons you will learn during your time in college. Make the most of this time by being responsible with your money.

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