5 Financial Tips for College Students from College Students

Written by Sara Holsing, Class of 2020

College can lead to many firsts for new students, including managing your own personal finances. But it’s important to remember to keep track of how much you’re making, how much you’re spending, and where it’s going.

You might want to start saving for immediate needs, like your textbooks, or even more distant ones, such as student loans or travel. Learning how to budget and manage your money so that you can have more control of your income and expenses is an important skill to learn and college is the perfect time to start building these good habits.

1. Make A List Of Your Expenses

Are you going to be paying for your meal plan, textbooks, or any other necessary college supplies out-of-pocket? If so, those are important to budget for! You may be able to find cost-effective alternative, such as textbooks if there are online PDF versions or rental options. Others you may not be able to exclude, like your meal plan or room fees. List all of the possible college expenses you might need for the upcoming semester to get started.

It will also be helpful to categorize “Needs” and “Wants.” Needs might include your textbooks, school supplies, toiletries, bills, etc. It’s crucial to give more priority to this category so if you’re relying on your own funds, you can buy that tri-fold for your class project coming up. “Wants” might include any subscriptions to online services (like those Netflix binges), snacks, or extra activities that you want to participate in, like a bowling night with your friends.

After you have a general outline of what you expect to spend on necessities and other items, you can start to set yourself spending limits. You may find it easier to set a monthly limit rather than for the whole semester. Sticking to monthly expenses will also give you more flexibility in the future if you need to adjust.

2. Know Your Income

If you have a job during the school year, on or off campus, outlining how much you expect to make based on your pay and hours will be helpful. First, note how much you’ll be paid and how often. Different states vary with their wages and some schools may stick to their state’s minimum wage. Additionally, different establishments may have a different payroll schedule—so be sure to check!

Then you can incorporate your hours that you’ll be working each week if you have a regular shift schedule. After you determine out how much you should be paid every 2 weeks, for example, you can double that total and expect to have that amount to spend each month. This will also influence your budget that you set.

3. Track Your Spending

There are many helpful tools out there for tracking your own personal finances and making budgets. One popular one is It securely connects to your bank accounts, tracks your spending every time you make a purchase, and even groups your purchases into categories automatically, like personal items or food. In Mint, you can also create a budget for each of these groups and it will help keep track of that and remind you of your budget. It even has an app so that you can check your budget wherever you are!

If you prefer a more hands-on approach, there are other services too, like EveryDollar. It allows you to enter your monthly income, create expected expenses, and enter your own purchases you’ve made. It doesn’t track your expenses automatically like Mint but you can still create categories such as utilities, food, and even budget for donating to charity if you’d like.

If apps and online services aren’t for you, a spreadsheet to keep track of everything is just as effective. After every purchase, keep your receipts to log later. There’s a lot of flexibility when designing your own spreadsheet to track your expenses. Find a method that works best for you and your budgeting.

4. Stick To Your Budget But Be Flexible

Sometimes it can be really difficult to ignore those store emails that alert you about the major holiday sale next week where you end up buying more than what you really needed. It happens to all of us! But remember to stick to your limits and budget as best as you can.

On the other hand, some periods are more pressing for spending than others. If you need to spend more money on gifts for friends and family around the holidays and can afford to spend less on school supplies over winter break, adjust your limits accordingly. There is no set standard for what a college student should and will spend every semester. Life changes constantly and requires flexibility.

5. Invest In Yourself

In the future, you might want to buy a new phone or think about larger purchases like a down payment for a car or an apartment after you graduate. If this is something that you’re thinking about, it’s good to always put some portion of your paycheck away into a separate bank account if you have one. Even if it’s just 10%, that is a lot better than nothing. You are worth investing in and your future will be better because of it!

Elizabethtown College