How to Organize Your College Finances

By Kaitlin Hurtado on January 2, 2022

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.

Many college students will not shy away from the financial struggles they face during their college years — it’s become somewhat of a running joke as many young adults adopt the “broke college student” persona in its entirety. The struggle to hunt for textbook bargains, pay rent, and not survive solely off of cheap takeout or packaged ramen. However, the financial struggles are far more real than just a silly joke — the financial struggles you experience in your college years can have a large impact on your post-grad finances, and even further down the line into your later adulthood.

College students typically face financial challenges for a few common reasons:

- College is expensive, from tuition to housing costs.

- Students typically have a limited budget, even if some money is provided by financial aid or their families. The ability to spend hours at a job is limited by school commitments and your social life.

- The typical college student is fresh out of high school, likely experiencing their first time away from home, and has limited experience in handling their own finances.

Don’t let financial problems negatively impact what could be some of the most memorable years of your life.  Keep reading for tips on you can organize your college finances.

Photo: Pexels

Account for your income and expenses 

Before you set on creating your perfect college budget, take into account what is coming into your bank account on a regular basis and what’s leaving it on a regular basis. Even if you do not have a job currently, evaluate other sources of money you may have, whether it is a weekly allowance that your family sends over to help you out with groceries or rent, or leftover financial aid that you expect to receive every semester.

Once you have your income down, take note of all your expenses. Some expenses may be easier to account for, such as monthly rent and utilities, tuition, monthly bills (phone, internet), and won’t change month-to-month. Others, like groceries or transportation (gas, money spent on Uber rides) may fluctuate and be harder to take into account. For these expenses, try to estimate (be as realistic as possible) how much you usually, or expect to, spend on these items.

Once you have a clearer idea of your expenses, you can get a clear idea of what your income-expense ratio is and better shape your budget.

Track your spending 

Most people aren’t aware of how much they are spending on a majority of their purchases when it comes down to the smaller details. Sure, you may spend a set amount on groceries on a weekly basis, but you may not be fully aware of how that budget is being divided. You could be spending most of your money on things that hold limited nutritional value, like pricier juices, chips, and ice cream, leaving a limited budget for things you can actually make a full meal out of, like proteins and vegetables.

Or, you can be spending $20 here and there on quick meals, clothing items, or “treat yourself” purchases without a second thought, only to be wracking up a fairly large credit card bill every month. You can do something as simple as jotting down every purchase in your Notes app or keeping a small notebook to write down your spending.

Once you have your purchases tracked down, you can look at the bigger picture. Do you spend the majority of your money on things that you can afford not to? For example, a small iced coffee before your morning class may not seem like a big deal, but that could be $20 to $30 dollars you could be spending, or saving, elsewhere.

Organize paperwork, deadlines, and financial information

As a college student, you are likely going to be working around several given deadlines at any given time, from school assignments to when you need to buy your parents’ anniversary gift. With so much on your plate, it’s not hard to imagine how you could forget about a certain bill payment or lose track of some paperwork.

When it comes to paperwork, remember to file away any items that you may need to grab at a moment’s notice, such as loan paperwork and insurance policies. While some may prefer to go digital, keeping a file or binder of important financial documents is a great way to stay organized.

You will also likely have to make several payments for different expenses, from tuition to rent. All these payments are likely going to be due on different days, making it even harder to remember when something is due. One option you may want to rely on is auto payments so that you don’t have to work about manually making a payment on tuition or rent every month. However, some people prefer to go through the process of making payments themselves so they can verify they have enough in their accounts to cover the payment, and also know exactly when the payment is being made.

If that’s the case, keep a calendar of your monthly or weekly payments. Don’t rely on your brain to remember everything important. Jot down all the bills you will need to pay, from your credit card to your car payments. Make it easier for yourself and set up calendar reminders on your phone or laptop in the days leading up to the payment deadline to prepare, and on the actual payment date to ensure that the bill is paid on time. There are also plenty of apps out there to help you keep yourself on a budget.

While financial challenges are to be expected during your college years, that doesn’t mean you have to needlessly suffer through them with no guidance or plan of attack. With these tips in mind, you can be more prepared to organize your college financials and have one less major stressor in your life.

It’s no secret that college costs a lot of money. Make sure your investment in higher education is protected with GradGuard. Our affordable tuition insurance and renters insurance plans are specifically designed for college students. Customizable plans make it easy to protect your tuition, room and board, laptop, bike, and so much more.

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