I’d like to spend a few minutes thinking about budgeting. To be honest, I spend a lot more than a few minutes each month planning my budget, and I have a predictable income and predictable monthly expenses. I have found budgeting my money to be a freeing experience because if I plan well I will have a bit of money left over and I won’t have to deal with the anxiety of running out of money without knowing it.
The financial aid budget is a tight budget; students don’t have oodles of extra money during college. Earning your degree will lead you to a lifetime of higher earnings than if you didn’t have a degree, which is a very good thing. Spend your time working hard, making connections, learning a field or some skills that will translate well to the workplace (for you liberal arts majors, like me), and the money will come. Budgeting well and keeping your debt burden low (educational loans and credit card debt) go hand in hand with doing well academically. Being successful in these areas will lead to an easy transition to whatever it is you’re doing after college.
So let’s get down to it. Here’s a budgeting worksheet that you might find helpful.
The first thing to do is figure out your income. In college, this may come from a variety of sources: financial aid, parental assistance, your savings, your current employment – these are a few examples. As a student, your income may fluctuate, which will force you to have a budget that is somewhat flexible. Write down the frequency of each piece of income, so if your parents have said that they can give you $30 per week for spending money, mark that as weekly income.
Next figure out what your regular expenses are. If you live off campus, you’ll need to pay rent, you may need money for internet access, or you may not have a meal plan and are buying all of your food. If you have an extremely low parent contribution, you’ll need to plan for your travel expenses at the end of the semester at this point. Write down all of your regular expenses and the frequency that you anticipate having these expenses. Don’t forget the little things like toothpaste! Of course you will have unanticipated expenses, like a co-pay when you visit Gannett. We’ll get to these expenses later.
You now want to compare your income and your expenses. You’ll probably want to break down your income and expenses on a weekly or monthly basis so that you have a sense of the amount of money that you have available to you in a shorter time frame than a full semester. Ideally, your income will exceed your regular expenses. If your income doesn’t meet your regular expenses and you are a financial aid recipient, please come and see us in 203 Day Hall. There may be sources of aid available to you to help you meet your expenses.
If your income is greater than your regular expenses, then you’ll want to put a bit of thought into unanticipated expenses. Will you be using NetPrint? Should you save a bit of money in case you visit Gannett? Will you need to be able to purchase some on-the-go meals during heavy exam times? Think through your possible unanticipated expenses and make a plan to keep some money aside for those expenses.
Now if you still have some income left over, you have personal spending money. It may be $10 or it may be a lot more, but it’s all yours. Savor it!
Budgeting will likely be a lifetime exercise, much like doing dishes and walking the dog. It’s one of those chores that are never done. So now is as good a time as any to embrace it and do it well!