How to Build an Easy Student Budget

lunch boxes behind notebooks on table

As a student, you are all too familiar with the idea of a budget. You may not realize it, but every time there’s a due date or deadline, you budget for it. However, you don’t budget your money, you budget your time. You plan out when you’re going to work on what assignment and give each one a level of importance and priority. Every student does this and the consequences of not budgeting are all too familiar: last-minute panic, stressful nights, and lots of coffee. As scary as those might seem, they are nothing compared to the consequences of not budgeting your money: heaps of debt, foreclosures, and overall financial failure. This is why budgeting is so important, and a great place to start is by learning how to build a student budget!

What is a Budget?

How to build student budget

Google defines a budget as an estimate, but “financial plan” is a better word for it. I can estimate that I’m going to save a million dollars next year, but if it’s not something that I’ll commit to, it won’t happen.

A budget can be as simple or as complex as you want. In the end, it just needs to be effective for you. If that means a few words scribbled in a journal, then by all means, that’s your budget. But if it means a huge excel workbook with various inputs and outputs, then use that.

The purpose of a budget is to help you reach your financial goals by defining exactly what your income and expenses are going to be for a set period of time. Again, this doesn’t have to be complicated as long as it motivates you to stick to it.

Budget Example

Here’s a sample budget I whipped up for the month of December:

2020 12 24 1

Keep in mind that these are fictitious numbers, but the structure is sound. Income, expense, and totals are going to be the backbone of almost every budget but the level of complexity will vary.

As a student, yours doesn’t have to be complex at all. In fact, I’ll show you how to throw one up in less than 5 minutes.

How to Build a Student Budget

I personally like to use excel, but feel free to use any sort of organization you want.

The first thing you need to do is identify your income and your expenses. An easy way to do this is to just think to yourself “how do I make money?” and “how do I spend my money?” After you’ve thought about them, write them out into a list. Below are a few ideas for you to get started:

Income:

  • Part-time job
  • Tutoring on the side
  • Allowance
  • Internship income
  • Co-op money
  • Government support money

Expenses:

  • Savings
  • Food
  • Gas
  • Clothes
  • Water
  • Rent
  • Tuition
  • Textbooks
  • Impulse buys
  • Luxury items

Construction

black ball point pen on white notebook

Once you’ve got your list, it’s time to assign values to each category. Work first on your income, then on your expenses. Check your paystubs or bank deposits to figure out exactly HOW MUCH you make in a month.

  • Part-time job: $800
  • Allowance: $100
  • Co-op money: $200

These should generally stay pretty consistent month-to-month, but your expenses are where the fun begins. For expenses, always allocate at least 10%-20% of your income to saving and investing. This is called paying yourself first, and this is how to build long term wealth. Then, try to make accurate estimates about how much money you spend and on what.

  • Saving/investing: $200
  • Going out to eat: $300
  • Shopping: $200
  • Gas: $100
  • Rent: $500

Finally, total both income and expenses:

  • Total income: $1100
  • Expenses: $1300

If you find that your total expenses are higher than your total income (as the example is), you need to go back to the drawing board and shave some expenses. When thinking about what’s necessary and what’s not, try to always keep the saving/investing portion. An appropriate shave-down might look like this:

  • Going out to eat: $300 –> $200
  • Shopping: $200 –> $100
  • Total Income: $1100
  • Total Expenses: $1100

Once they are balanced and you have at least as much income as expenses, you have a working budget!

If you want to try excel, feel free to open up a new worksheet and copy in the example budget I made above. The only changes you’ll want to make are for the bolded numbers and for the “net” numbers.

  • For the bolded total use a “sum” function “=sum(B5:B6)”
2020 12 24 1 1
  • For the Net numbers, take one cell and subtract it from another
how to build a student budget

Stick to the Budget

A budget is useless until you follow it. For certain expenses, you can set up an automatic payment system so you take the willpower out of it entirely (like saving/investing.) For others like food and shopping, you’ll just need to practice not indulging yourself.

At the end of the month, look through your bank transactions and see exactly what you spent your money on and how much. Then compare that to your budget (in the example I gave, that would be the “actual” column.) See if you succeeded in following the budget or if you need to work on certain things. If your budget is far off, an adjustment may need to happen. Keep on adjusting and trying month after month and eventually, you’ll refine your budget to work perfectly for you!

Also, once you start having a more and more complicated life-style, add different categories to income and expenses as needed.

Start Your Budget Now!

calculator and notepad placed over stack of usa dollars; how to build a student budget
How to Build a Student Budget

That’s basically it! A budget should not be complicated at all. It should be detailed enough that it helps you outline your financial plans but simple enough that you can easily reference it and stick to it. As you get more comfortable with it, you may want to break up certain sections even further (tutoring into money made off each individual student, etc.) but for now, this should give you a good baseline to start with. You know how to manage your time, and now, with a budget, you know how to manage your money. You’re well on the path to financial success!

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Thanks for reading “How to Build a Student Budget”! I hope you learned a thing or two about budgets from the post and feel motivated enough to apply some of it. To learn about how to build income opportunities as a student, head over to this post here. If you want to learn more about me, head over to this link here. Finally, if you want to get exclusive updates and tips, drop your email in the “get updates” box (might have to scroll up a bit.) Let me know your thoughts and suggestions in the comments!