College can be extremely expensive and without the right budget, you can run through your money quickly and find yourself coming up short. Knowing how much you will spend in a given month is really important.
In college, many students are living away from home for the first time and discover what it is like to live within their own means. Even for those students who work and go to school at the same time, it’s easy to spend more than you have. To avoid falling into this cycle, we’ve put together a quick step by step guide on how to create a personal budget.
Gather all your data. If you have a job, write down how much you make a month, after taxes. If you have another source of monthly income, financial aid or some type of allowance from family, add that in too. Next, make a list of the bills you pay monthly, such as rent, utilities, cable TV, Internet, and cell phone service. From these pieces alone, you can find out how much disposable income you have left over to spend after paying the bills.
Here’s where the estimating comes in. With a typical week in mind, do your best to figure out how much you spent on going out with friends, food, clothing, and other things that aren’t a part of your “regular” monthly bills. Even though you’re guessing at this point, it’s good to stay realistic so you can achieve the budget you’ve built for yourself.
Create a new spreadsheet using an application like Microsoft Excel or Numbers in iWork. Both programs come with personal budget templates, or you can create your own using these steps as a guide. Enter in your numbers from step 1 and step 2 above. From there you can see how much you can expect to save or have to put on a credit card each month.
Depending on the level of detail you want to add to your budget, you can use this step to also create categories of how you’ll be spending your money. Some popular categories may be eating out/bars, clothing, electronics, etc. By splitting spending into categories, you’ll be able to tell what parts of your life are most expensive.
Now that you have a prediction of your cash flow, it’s time to enter actual data. A key part to creating and maintaining a budget is to keep receipts for whatever you spend, or if you don’t have a receipt, to not forget to log what you spent on what. Once you have receipts to track, decide how you want to track your money, weekly, monthly, every semester/quarter, etc. Monthly is a fairly common standard and what we’ll use in our budget example.
After a month of careful receipt tracking, you should have a good record of how much you’ve spent and on what and where. Now you can see how your totals add up. Did you expect to spend more or less than your budget? If you used categories, where did you spend the most?
Keep in mind that while your monthly expenses will stay pretty constant, there are certain times of year when you’ll have to spend more than normal. Examples of high spending periods include back to school time, when you’ll need to stock up on school supplies and get college textbooks, and the end of the year when you need to buy presents for those on your gift list.
It’s normal to have a balance over on your credit card during these times, just remember to try and pay off your card in full as soon as possible so you don’t get dinged with high interest charges. Credit cards can be tricky to manage while you’re in college, but if you’re keeping a budget and reading the fine print of your credit card policy, you can stay ahead of the game.