Budgeting to Buy

5 Steps to Creating Your College Budget

With these tips and a little practice, it’s possible to plan your expenses and maybe even build up some savings while you’re still in college.

Tuition, housing, books, groceries and even the occasional night out affects your college budget. These tips can help you manage your finances so you can cover the necessities and plan for the unexpected.

Let's get started:

Track your spending: Get an understanding of where your money goes.

Set your goals: Define what budget success looks like for you.

Build better habits: Learn how to cut back, not out.

Monitor and adapt your plan: Keep tracking your spending and fine-tuning your budget.

Grow your money: Create an emergency fund and start a side hustle.

Track Your Spending

One way to track your spending is to start a spending journal. Document every purchase you make over the course of a month. This process will help you understand where your money goes and will help you identify where you spend more than you expected. You might be surprised by how much money you spend on coffee. You can use an old-fashioned notebook or spreadsheet, and there are plenty of apps to keep track of spending.

If you're a BECU member, try Money Manager, accessible via Online Banking.

Set Your Goals

Managing your money well means making financial rules you can live by. Start with a short-term plan to know how much you are spending and cover your current expenses. Then think about your longer-term goals: Saving for a new laptop, a road trip with your friends, a car, or even just a goal to save up a specific dollar amount. With your savings goals in mind, you can start creating your budget. Add up your monthly income, allowance, or any other source of money coming in. Then subtract your expenses based on what you've learned from your spending journal. What's left is the savings you can dedicate to your goals each month or cover any surprises without going into debt.

Explore more goal-setting tips through Better Budgeting.

Build Better Habits

When budgeting, the biggest consideration is where to cut back, not to cut out. Treat yourself to a tasty bubble tea or an improv show, but set some boundaries about how often you indulge to help keep your new budget on track. Other ways to save include buying used textbooks, opting for public transportation instead of driving or exploring student discounts.

Monitor and Adapt Your Plan

Once you've committed to your monthly budget, keep tracking your finances using your spending journal or budgeting tool. Be honest with yourself about how your budget is working. You'll probably need to tweak your spending and saving decisions periodically. If you spend more on eating out than you expected, try to make room for it in another part of your budget. The point is to make a budget that meets your needs — it doesn't have to be perfect.

Grow Your Money

Once you've mastered the basics, start thinking about how to keep your financial goals on track long-term. A great place to start is saving up an emergency fund, ideally $500-$1,000 that you set aside and only touch for an unexpected bill, car repair, or other important expense. You can even set your emergency fund aside in a separate savings account so you don't accidentally spend it on day-to-day expenses.

Consider picking up a side hustle to earn extra money. Good side hustles, like becoming a tutor or finding a part-time job, are an investment of time and energy, but they can make a real difference in achieving your savings goals.

As you launch your college budgeting journey, learn more about how our free checking and savings accounts can help you meet your financial goals.