How to Make — and Stick to — a Student Budget in College

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A college student budget can be easy to set up and manage because there may be fewer sources of income and expenses to track. Even though you may not have a lot of income as a college student, learning how to budget may wind up being one of the most valuable skills you pick up.

How to budget for students

While the basic budgeting process requires you to track your income and expenses, the deeper fundamentals can be more difficult. You’ll want to identify and set goals, and then figure out how to budget and save money to make progress toward achieving those goals. Here are four steps you can take to start.

1. Estimate your monthly expenses
2. Determine your monthly income
3. Track your spending
4. Remember to set some money aside

Plus:
Example of a college budget template
More budgeting tips for college students

1. Estimate your monthly expenses

College expenses can vary greatly depending on where you go to school, your program, extracurriculars and your arrangements for room and board. You can start estimating how much you spend each month by writing down all the potential expense categories, including:

  • Food
  • Transportation
  • Entertainment
  • Clothing
  • Books and supplies
  • Rent
  • Utilities

Depending on how precise you want your student budget to be, you can break the categories into subcategories as well. For example, you might create subcategories under food for groceries, coffee, eating out and eating in the dining hall.

Over time, you’ll figure out your average monthly expenses for each category and can make sure you plan ahead and have enough money to cover your bills — or have a plan for cutting back and saving money. But to start, write down an estimated amount next to each category.

2. Determine your monthly income

The average college student’s income may be fairly low. While more than 70% of college students work while enrolled, many take on part-time jobs, have limited work-study awards or work during the summer to build their savings. Some students may also have “income” from their parents. You should try to openly discuss how much money you can expect to receive and whether it’s a steady amount for living expenses or only for emergencies.

Student loans can also seem like income, as you may be able to use the money for living expenses. However, while a loan can give you money to spend, remember that you’ll also have to repay the loans plus interest. Limiting how much you borrow now can make budgeting trickier, but it’ll also help you save money later.

If you don’t have a steady income and are relying on savings or loans, it can be tricky to figure out what you should use for your monthly income in your student budget. Consider dividing what you have by the number of months you need to make it last. For example, if you save up $3,000 over the summer and have eight months of school, you can divide the $3,000 by eight and set your monthly “income” at $375.

In the end, you want your monthly expenses and income to at least match up. When you have more expenses, you’ll need to find ways to save money or increase your income. And when you have more income, you can put the extra money into one of your savings goals.

3. Track your spending

After you have your estimates for your expenses and income, you can start tracking your spending. Over time, the data you collect can help you better understand and control your finances. There aren’t many specific budgeting apps for college students, but the top budgeting apps can work well for students and graduates alike.

You may have semi-regular expenses, such as payments for room and board, that are due at the beginning of each semester or quarter. Similar to your income, you may want to split up and track the expense monthly. Or, you may want to subtract the expense from your income at the start of each term and use the remaining difference as the starting point for your monthly income. Learning how to deal with these semi-regular expenses is a standard part of budgeting after graduation as well. Many major expenses, including insurance and registration, get charged semiannually or annually.

Try to track every expense at first — even if you spend $1 on a snack — but don’t get discouraged if you forget sometimes or find your monthly income doesn’t cover all your monthly expenses.

Getting into the habit of budgeting and adjusting the numbers as you go is part of the process. Although, if you find you’re spending hundreds of dollars going out every weekend, part of the adjustment may be a lifestyle change. Either find additional income or cut back on your expenses.

4. Remember to set some money aside

Another important part of budgeting is making sure you’re saving money for life’s necessities and pleasures.

You can do this by adding different savings goals as expenses within your budget, and allocating your income to cover the “expense” every month. In practice, you can move the money into a separate savings account if you don’t spend it that month.

You might not know how much to save each month, but try to save up several hundred dollars in an emergency fund. You can use the money to:

  • Repair your vehicle
  • Buy a last-minute flight home
  • Cover another unexpected crisis

Other goals may be a little more fun:

  • Saving up for a semester abroad
  • Traveling during spring break
  • Collecting a security deposit for off-campus housing

Or, if you’re taking a long-term approach to your finances, perhaps you want to pay off student loans early (or avoid taking them out altogether) to save money on interest.

Example of a college budget template

Basic budgeting worksheets for students will have spaces for fixed and flexible expenses, and you can compare these expenses to your income. You can find college student budget templates online or create your own using a spreadsheet.

Or, you may find a budgeting app is easier to use and keep up to date. Mint is a popular free option, and there are many paid options that offer free trials.

More budgeting tips for college students

Here are some more budgeting tips that that can help you stay the course by increasing your income, decreasing your expenses and wisely using your money:

  • Be cautious with credit. You may have access to a credit card or student loans, but try to plan ahead before you swipe your card or take a disbursement. Remember, you’ll need to repay the money you spend plus interest, which can strain your budget in the future.
  • Rent or buy used textbooks. Renting textbooks, or buying used books, is a tried-and-true way to save money in college. Start by asking around to see if anyone you know recently finished the course in which you’re interested, and buy directly from the person rather than the campus bookstore.
  • Take advantage of student discounts. Many retailers and restaurants offer a student discount if you show your student ID or have a .edu email address. These can help you save money on clothing, electronics, food and more.
  • Look for freebies. Online marketplaces such as Craigslist often have freebie sections, and you can join local Facebook groups devoted to giving away (rather than selling) unwanted products. It’s a great way to save money and reuse something that may otherwise wind up in the trash.
  • Become a rewards member. Airlines, movie theaters, restaurants and other stores have loyalty programs, and you can join many of them at no cost. You might receive instant savings or earn rewards that you can redeem later. But don’t stop comparison shopping.
  • Start a side gig. Sometimes it’s easier to earn money than to cut back, especially if you’re already fairly frugal. There are many side gigs available to college students, and some of them can even become lucrative small businesses. Ask around campus as well, as some college departments may pay you to participate in research studies.
  • Use your school’s resources. Part of your tuition goes toward funding school programs, and you should learn about and use these resources. There may be no-cost tutors, health care, career advisors and emergency loans or grants available, but you have to ask for help first.

Elyssa Kirkham contributed to this report.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 6 lenders of 2020!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
1.99% – 6.65%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Laurel Road

1.99% – 7.10%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

2.99% – 6.44%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

2.39% – 6.01%Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Elfi

1.99% – 6.43%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

3.19% – 6.08%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit CommonBond

Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Mortgage lending is not offered in Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association.
As used throughout these Terms & Conditions, the term “Lender” refers to KeyBank National Association and its affiliates, agents, guaranty insurers, investors, assigns, and successors in interest.

ANNUAL PERCENTAGE RATE (“APR”)
This term represents the actual cost of financing to the borrower over the life of the loan expressed as a yearly rate.

FEE INFORMATION

There are no origination fees or prepayment penalties associated with the loan. Lender may assess a late fee if any part of a payment is not received within 15 days of the payment due date. Any late fee assessed shall not exceed 5% of the late payment or $28, whichever is less. A borrower may be charged $20 for any payment (including a check or an electronic payment) that is returned unpaid due to non-sufficient funds (NSF) or a closed account.

LOAN AMOUNT

For bachelor’s degrees and higher, up to 100% of outstanding private and federal student loans (minimum $5,000) are eligible for refinancing. If you are refinancing greater than $300,000 in student loan debt, Lender may refinance the loans into 2 or more new loans.
For eligible Associates degrees in the healthcare field (see Eligibility & Eligible Loans section below), Lender will refinance up to $50,000 in loans for non-ParentPlus refinance loans. Note, parents who are refinancing loans taken out on behalf of a child who has obtained an associates degrees in an eligible healthcare field are not subject to the $50,000 loan maximum, refer to https://www.laurelroad.com/refinance-student-loans/refinance-parent-plus-loans/ for more information about refinancing ParentPlus loans.

ELIGIBILITY & ELIGIBLE LOANS

Borrower, and Co-signer if applicable, must be a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident with a valid I-551 card (which must show a minimum of 10 years between “Resident Since” date and “Card Expires” date or has no expiration date); state that they are of at least borrowing age in the state of residence at the time of application; and meet Lender underwriting criteria (including, for example, employment, debt-to-income, disposable income, and credit history requirements).

Graduates may refinance any unsubsidized or subsidized Federal or private student loan that was used exclusively for qualified higher education expenses (as defined in 26 USC Section 221) at an accredited U.S. undergraduate or graduate school. Any federal loans refinanced with Lender are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment.

All loans must be in grace or repayment status and cannot be in default. Borrower must have graduated or be enrolled in good standing in the final term preceding graduation from an accredited Title IV U.S. school and must be employed, or have an eligible offer of employment. Parents looking to refinance loans taken out on behalf of a child should refer to https://www.laurelroad.com/refinance-student-loans/refinance-parent-plus-loans/ for applicable terms and conditions.

For Associates Degrees: Only associates degrees earned in one of the following are eligible for refinancing: Cardiovascular Technologist (CVT); Dental Hygiene; Diagnostic Medical Sonography; EMT/Paramedics; Nuclear Technician; Nursing; Occupational Therapy Assistant; Pharmacy Technician; Physical Therapy Assistant; Radiation Therapy; Radiologic/MRI Technologist; Respiratory Therapy; or Surgical Technologist. To refinance an Associates degree, a borrower must also either be currently enrolled and in the final term of an associate degree program at a Title IV eligible school with an offer of employment in the same field in which they will receive an eligible associate degree OR have graduated from a school that is Title IV eligible with an eligible associate and have been employed, for a minimum of 12 months, in the same field of study of the associate degree earned.

INTEREST RATES

The interest rate you are offered will depend on your credit profile, income, and total debt payments as well as your choice of fixed or variable and choice of term. For applicants who are currently medical or dental residents, your rate offer may also vary depending on whether you have secured employment for after residency.

DISBURSEMENT OPTIONS

The repayment of any refinanced student loan will commence (1) immediately after disbursement by us, or (2) after any grace or in-school deferment period, existing prior to refinancing and/or consolidation with us, has expired.

POSTPONING OR REDUCING PAYMENTS

After loan disbursement, if a borrower documents a qualifying economic hardship, we may agree in our discretion to allow for full or partial forbearance of payments for one or more 3-month time periods (not to exceed 12 months in the aggregate during the term of your loan), provided that we receive acceptable documentation (including updating documentation) of the nature and expected duration of the borrower’s economic hardship.

We may agree under certain circumstances to allow a borrower to make $100/month payments for a period of time immediately after loan disbursement if the borrower is employed full-time as an intern, resident, or similar postgraduate trainee at the time of loan disbursement. These payments may not be enough to cover all of the interest that accrues on the loan. Unpaid accrued interest will be added to your loan and monthly payments of principal and interest will begin when the post-graduate training program ends.

We may agree under certain circumstances to allow postponement (deferral) of monthly payments of principal and interest for a period of time immediately following loan disbursement (not to exceed 6 months after the borrower’s graduation with an eligible degree), if the borrower is an eligible student in the borrower’s final term at the time of loan disbursement or graduated less than 6 months before loan disbursement, and has accepted an offer of (or has already begun) full-time employment.

If Lender agrees (in its sole discretion) to postpone or reduce any monthly payment(s) for a period of time, interest on the loan will continue to accrue for each day principal is owed. Although the borrower might not be required to make payments during such a period, the borrower may continue to make payments during such a period. Making payments, or paying some of the interest, will reduce the total amount that will be required to be paid over the life of the loan. Interest not paid during any period when Lender has agreed to postpone or reduce any monthly payment will be added to the principal balance through capitalization (compounding) at the end of such a period, one month before the borrower is required to resume making regular monthly payments.

KEYBANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.

This information is current as of June 23, 2020 and is subject to change.


2 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.

Splash Financial Disclosures

Splash Financial loans are available through arrangements with lending partners. Your loan application will be submitted to the lending partner and be evaluated at their sole discretion. For loans where a credit union is the lender, or a purchaser of the loan, in order to refinance your loans, you will need to become a credit union member.

The Splash Student Loan Refinance Program is not offered or endorsed by any college or university. Neither Splash Financial nor the lending partner are affiliated with or endorse any college or university listed on this website.

You should review the benefits of your federal student loan; it may offer specific benefits that a private refinance/consolidation loan may not offer. If you work in the public sector, are in the military or taking advantage of a federal department of relief program, such as income based repayment or public service forgiveness, you may not want to refinance, as these benefits do not transfer to private refinance/consolidation loans.

Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. This information is current as of May 1, 2020.

Fixed APR: Annual Percentage Rate [APR] is the cost of credit calculating the interest rate, loan amount, repayment term and the timing of payments. Fixed Rate options range from 2.88% (without autopay) to 7.27% (without autopay) and will vary based on application terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. Rates are subject to change without notice. Fixed rate options without an autopay discount consist of a range from 2.88% per year to 6.21% per year for a 5-year term, 3.40% per year to 6.25% per year for a 7-year term, 3.45% to 5.08% for a 8-year term, 3.89% per year to 6.65% per year for a 10-year term, 4.18% per year to 5.11% per year for a 12-year term, 4.20% per year to 7.05% per year for a 15-year term, or 4.51% per year to 7.27% per year for a 20-year term, with no origination fees. The fixed interest rate will apply until the loan is paid in full (whether before or after default, and whether before or after the scheduled maturity date of the loan).
The Rate will not change during the term. Repayment examples are for illustrative purposes only. The following Fixed Rate examples are based on a $10,000 loan amount using the lowest APR for each application term listed above. All student loan rates used in calculating the examples are shown without the autopay discount (.25%). There are no application or origination fees, and no prepayment penalties. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 2.88% per year for a 5-year term would be $179.15. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 3.40% for a 7-year term would be $134.17. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 3.45% for a 8-year term would be $119.35. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 with an APR of 3.89% for a 10-year term would be $100.72. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 with an APR of 4.18% for a 12-year term would be $88.43. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 4.20% for a 15-year term would be $74.98. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 4.51% for a 20-year term would be from $63.32.

Variable APR: Annual Percentage Rate [APR] is the cost of credit calculating the interest rate, loan amount, repayment term and the timing of payments. Variable rate options range from 1.99% (with autopay) to 7.10% (without autopay) and will vary based on application terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. Our lowest rate option is shown with a 0.25% autopay discount. Our highest rate option does not include an autopay discount. The variable rates are based on the Variable rate index, is based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of April 27, 2020, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.43763%. The interest rate on a variable rate loan is comprised of an index and margin added together. The margin is a fixed amount (disclosed at the time of your loan application) added each month to the index to determine the next month’s variable rate. Variable rate options without an autopay discount consist of a range from 2.01% per year to 6.30% per year for a 5-year term, 4.00% per year to 6.35% per year for a 7-year term, 2.09% per year to 3.92% per year for a 8-year term, 4.25% per year to 6.40% per year for a 10-year term, 2.67% per year to 4.56% per year for a 12-year term, 3.44% per year to 6.65% per year for a 15-year term, 4.75% per year to 6.93% per year for a 20-year term, or 5.14% per year to 7.10% for a 25-year term, with no origination fees. APR is subject to increase after consummation. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the borrower’s loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable rate may be between 9.00% and 16.00%, depending on loan term. The floor rate may be between 0.54% and 4.21%, depending on loan term. These rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
Variable APRs and amounts subject to increase or decrease. Variable rates are indexed to the one-month LIBOR rate. The following Variable Rate examples are based on a $10,000 loan amount. Repayment examples are for illustrative purposes only. All student loan rates below are shown without the autopay discount (.25%). There are no application or origination fees, and no prepayment penalties. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 2.01% per year for a 5-year term would be $175.32. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 4.00% for a 7-year term would be $136.69. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 2.09% for a 8-year term would be $113.21. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 with an APR of 4.25% for a 10-year term would be $102.44. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 with an APR of 2.67% for a 12-year term would be $81.24. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 3.44% for a 15-year term would be $71.19. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 4.75% for a 20-year term would be from $64.62. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan with an APR of 5.14% for a 25-year term would be from $59.28.

 


3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance: Fixed rates from 3.20% APR to 6.44% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.99% APR to 6.44% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loanSee APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 3.21% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 0.18% plus 2.82% margin minus 0.25% ACH discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. See eligibility details. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score. Soft credit inquiries allow SoFi to show you what rates and terms SoFi can offer you up front. After seeing your rates, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries (or hard credit pulls) are required for SoFi to be able to issue you a loan. In addition to requiring your explicit permission, these credit pulls may impact your credit score. Terms and Conditions Apply. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. 

4 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.

Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.19% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.43% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.99% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.43% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of June 15, 2020, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.

Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.

The information provided on this page is updated as of 6/15/2020. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at [email protected], or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.

© 2020 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.


5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.2% effective May 10, 2020.

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.