How to Budget Money in College

by T. Chen

“When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know it is.” – Oscar Wilde

By the time you realize that you need to read this, you will have (hopefully) acquired a deep understanding of the immense value in money. Here’s a quick fact: to pay for one year of college it will take you eight to sixteen months of full time (40hrs/week) work, based on a student/minimum wage salary and the average public school and private school tuition costs respectively. 

Here’s how you can alleviate the effects of the mind-crushing money eater we all know as college. 

Step One: You will fail if you do not plan

Create a budget list of ALL your expenses by the MONTH. Be detailed—show what date payment plans need to be paid by, how much you can spend for each expense category, and include a bottom line (covers all expenses not controlled by you: school, housing, etc.) and a total wanted (includes extra money for going out, shopping, etc.). Be reasonable, on the example attached I am spending $30 on food a week (you can calculate a month as a week’s expenses times 4). That’s equivalent to two packs of veggies, eggs, yogurt, and one type of meat (I am a health conscious athlete). Most of you will realize you can’t live off just that. Document yourself on an average trip to the grocery store and plan accordingly. 

Step Two: Follow these Tips on…

Never buy in bulk. You will never need it! College kids who buy from Costco are WAY more likely to overspend than a student buying from Food4Less or Albertsons (more likely to throw away uneaten food too)! Instead, always buy food for a week and a week only. It will be easier to stay under budget and not over or under buy.

The New Closet for the New School Year
A friend of mine started a fb page for Cal Poly Slo called CP Clothes for Sale. It’s basically a site where students sell and buy clothes for prices ranging from $5 to $10. It’s a smart way to get rid of any excess clothing for some quick cash. It’s also a great way to buy clothes for a fraction of their original price. If your school doesn’t already have one, start one! It’s a great way to meet new people and you’d be surprised how many people will think it’s a brilliant idea.

School Supplies/Books
Don’t buy it unless your teacher says you need it. You have no idea how many students are fooled into thinking they need that $200 history textbook or that new Five-Star Binder on the first day of school. No! Not the case! Most teachers are very aware of the price tags on their books, and unless they explicitly tell you to have it the day of and to order early, they may offer a cheaper solution the first day of class (they may tell you where to find a pdf version or that they have a book reserved at the library). These course textbook reserves typically found at the front of the library will save you hundreds of dollars. Most students will have already bought the book, thus very few people will ever check out the one on reserve (ta-da! your own free copy).

For supplies, don’t buy it until you know you can’t live without it. Buy the pack of notecards after your teacher assigns you to memorize a hundred biology terms! Pencils, erasers, and maybe a notebook are exceptions and would be great to have on the first day of school. 

Step Three: Take a Deep Breath

You’re doing a great first step by understanding the need to budget in college. “A penny saved is a penny earned,”- Benjamin Franklin. But that’s no reason to let money limit you from anything! Realize that you can make new friends, hang out, and even go on a date for free! A little imagination can go a long way. Here’s to the beginning of a new experience!