When you don’t have much money to start with, it’s really hard to make a budget and stick to it. However, there are some nonnegotiable items in your budget that you need to take care of before everything. If these elements aren’t prioritized, you’ll find yourself in a deeper hole, getting behind on bills, and with nothing for emergencies. Broke college student life is hard, but this can make it a little bit easier with just a bit of self discipline.
This comes before everything, ever. Getting behind on this will put you farther back on this list than anything else. That’s why it’s incredibly important to choose a place to live that isn’t outside your means. You have many options in college, such as living on campus, living in an apartment with roommates off campus, living by yourself off campus, finding a house to rent with friends, and any other kind of living situation. Depending on what you’re comfortable with and how much you can spend, choose the best one for you. If even these are too expensive, you can look into apartments that are a little bit farther from campus and not necessarily considered student housing. However, the advantage of living in an apartment meant for student housing off campus is that most let you rent your room individually, so you aren’t held responsible if one of your roommates are short on rent that month.
Another thing to consider: the way in which you receive your income. If you’re a student, there’s a good chance a large portion of your money comes at the beginning of the semester when you receive your grant, loan, and scholarship money. You may find it incredibly helpful to pay rent for the whole semester up front with that money. Personally, I found just putting this money aside in a savings account was too tempting, and I often dipped into it for purchases I shouldn’t have, sometimes leaving me to make up the difference in the later months of the semester. If the money’s already given to whoever you’re paying, you won’t even have to worry about rent the rest of the semester, and that’s an awesome feeling.
If you should find yourself in a position where you really can’t make rent that month, contact your apartment complex to at least let them know you’re aware you’re going to be late, and when you expect to have the money. This isn’t going to get you out of trouble every time, and it definitely shouldn’t become a habit, but student housing can be particularly understanding of the college student struggle, and may be willing to be flexible with you.
Utilities should be lumped in with budgeting for rent, as these can raise your monthly “living fee” up nearly $100 or more. Additionally, sometimes you’re going to owe more than usual, especially as seasons change. Don’t let this be an unexpected expense that pops up.
Overall, this should be the priority, but be sure that you aren’t spending an enormous portion of your budget for this. Living in your means is absolutely necessary when you’re trying to live comfortably on a low budget with the stress of school and work.
If this is applicable, this is almost as important as rent. A car is often a necessity for college students as a way to get to school and work. It will also affect your credit score if you get behind on payments, and especially if it gets repossessed, which may not seem like a big deal now, but it will be in the near future (yes, it’s closer than you think!).
This is another time it would be beneficial to contact the people responsible for your car loan and let them know you fully intend on paying. Again, this isn’t a get out of jail free card, but it may make them be a little easier on you if they know the money’s coming.
You do have to eat. And, sorry to break it to you, it really shouldn’t be Ramen (at least not every meal)! This can definitely become a category that we don’t necessarily plan for, rather we just use money as we have – or don’t – have it. This can get where your meals are very irregular, unhealthy, and sometimes nonexistent. Trust me, it isn’t some rite of passage to be starving as a college student. It just requires a budget and not blindly throwing money. Think about your favorite meals; this can include eating out if you want! Create an average of how much they will cost for whatever time period you’re looking at. Also include money for your pet’s food, if applicable. That should be the base amount of what to budget for food. Set this money aside only to be used on meals.
Various Monthly Bills
This category will include important bills, such as car insurance, phone bill, internet, and anything else that are what I call “First World Necessities.” These bills make life more efficient or are a need for something else necessary. It’s important to stay on top of these because this is the category that is much less forgiving when it comes to missing a payment. A lapse in coverage or service can be a big deal, so try to prioritize this accordingly.
Being on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t ever go out with friends. Set aside a conservative amount of money to spend on your social essentials, going out for dinner, attending events, and furthering your important hobbies. This may be one of the first categories to cut back on when it comes to a tighter month though.
Figure out how much gas you go through each week and figure out how much it will cost with the current gas price. Also, figure in any expected trips that may be coming up because gas can end up being a bigger chunk of your money, especially for students who drive back home often. Don’t push your budget too far and wait until the last minute to fill up. Running out of gas is really not fun.
These are the dangerous ones. Everything requires a subscription these days, and a five dollar subscription here and there can add up pretty quickly. On hard months, think about which subscriptions you really truly need and pause the other ones for the month. If you find yourself running outside of your budget often, that’s a good time to reevaluate what you’re getting. You could even consider timing the schedule out farther, such as receiving a different subscription box every other month. Prioritize subscriptions you use for school, are necessary for your favorite hobbies or interests, or help you work on your trade.
This is always the hardest part: putting away money for the future instead of spending it. However, unexpected emergencies are always going to come up. Whether it’s a needed car repair, unexpected bill, doctor visit, or replacing an important item, you’re going to need the money in a hurry, and probably a lot of it. You don’t have to save the conventional ten percent. Even if it’s as simple as five dollars a paycheck, you’ve got to start somewhere, and it’s better than zero dollars. This will help cut down on so much stress, or even just having to beg mom and dad for some extra cash.
College is difficult, but having to learn how to adult on top of that just makes it so much worse. Using these main categories to balance your spending is really going to keep you from than frantic period at the end of the month when you have more money in your cup holders than your bank account. Know when to cut yourself off, but also know when to brighten your day a little and bring joy to your life by splurging responsibly – after everything else is taken care of.