Budgeting and College Students

Learn the basics. Build a budget.

While starting a budget might seem hard to get excited about, once you get going, you’ll be glad you did. That’s because budgeting isn’t about restricting yourself, but about financially empowering yourself—so you can be confident that when you have to pay for the rent, food and other essentials, you’ve got it covered.

Sure, sticking to a budget does take a little time and discipline, but in the long run, it will be worth it by helping you avoid late payment fees, save for the things you need and better enjoy your time in college.

1. Before you begin: track your spending.

Before you can create a budget, which should help you determine how to cut unnecessary expenses, you must first know what you are spending money on. For a week or a month, conduct a self-audit of your spending. Here are some tips: 

  • Use a free smartphone money app, a spreadsheet on your computer, or simply a notebook to track how you spend. 
  • Record everything you spend money on – and that means everything, right down to the dollars you spend on soda from the vending machine. Little things like these really add up and can make or break your budget. 
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Smart Tip

Example: Just $4 a day on vending machine purchases or a latte from the corner café would add up to about $120 dollars a month and almost a $1,000 during an 8-month school year!

2. List your income. 

Include your wages from jobs as well as any additional income from family or other sources. As a student, you might have income from financial aid.

3. List your expenses.

  • List your monthly fixed expenses – these are expenses you pay approximately the same amount for each month.
    Examples: Rent, car payment 
  • List your monthly variable expenses – these are expenses that are generally not the same amount each month.
    Examples: Money spent dining out, fluctuating gas or electric utility costs

4. See if your income exceeds your expenses, or vice versa.

  • To have healthy finances, your income should exceed your expenses. 
  • You should also have enough money left over after paying your expenses to put some money toward savings. A regular savings contribution should be a part of your budget, also known as “paying yourself first.”

5. Consider your “needs” and “wants” when cutting unnecessary expenses.

  • If your spending is greater than your income, you will need to cut unnecessary expenses to balance your budget.
  • A need is a must-have, something you need to live and conduct essential daily activities. It includes items like housing, which means that paying your rent is a necessary, or needed, expense. Similarly, if you need a car to get to school or work, then making a car payment is also a necessary expense. (However, if you live in a city and mostly use public transportation, a car and its expenses could be unnecessary.) 
  • A want, or discretionary expense, is a nice-to-have that you might enjoy but don’t really need. In most cases, entertainment costs, such as going to concerts, movies or eating out, are discretionary expenses you could cut back on if you are living beyond your means. -

Next: Try It Yourself - Create a Budget

To get control over your finances, develop a budget. Our handy calculator can help you estimate your monthly income versus monthly expenses to see where your money is going. It's important to know when your bills are due and always pay them on time or earlier. If not, you can damage your credit and incur late fees.

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This content does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.

Important Information

Before applying for a private student loan, SunTrust recommends comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. View and compare the available features of SunTrust private student loans.

Union Federal is a federally registered trademark of Cognition Financial Corporation used by SunTrust Bank under license. The Union Federal Private Student Loan is funded by SunTrust Bank and is not offered in connection with any other lender or the federal government. Cognition Financial Corporation is not an affiliate of SunTrust Bank.

Certain restrictions and limitations may apply. SunTrust Bank reserves the right to change or discontinue these programs without notice. These loan programs are subject to approval under the SunTrust credit policy and other criteria and may not be available in certain jurisdictions.

Don’t forget to build an emergency fund!

Financial experts suggest you put aside at least 3-6 months of income to create an emergency fund to hold you over should you ever have a sudden job loss or an urgent expense, like a car repair or a medical issue you have to take care of immediately.

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