Budgeting for College Students 101

College is a great time to explore adulthood and learn a few things the hard way.

You’re going to make mistakes, that’s a given. I know I did.

Of course, now that I’m blessed with 20/20 hindsight, there are a few things I would definitely do differently. I definitely would have asked that cute girl in my French class out on a date, and I probably wouldn’t have eaten so much food from vending machines and microwaves. I also wish I’d spent more time studying, less time playing video games, etc. etc.

However, rather than focusing on a depressing list of regrets, let’s focus on a few things that could actually be useful.
I’m talking about making a college budget. If you mess up with money while in college, your life can be negatively affected for years to come. Let’s say, for example, you damage your credit. Suddenly it becomes incredibly difficult for you to do things like buy a car, find an apartment, and even land a job.

To help you get a head start on figuring out your financial smarts, here are two little college student budget tips I wish someone had shared with me at the start of my freshmen year.

Keep Track of the Little Expenses

While it’s important to understand the difference between wants and needs, for me the most important part of sticking to a college budget is keeping track of the little things. I’m talking about those little purchases that are easy to forget about but have a way of adding up fast.

The best thing about a college student budget is that you can allow yourself to make these small purchases. As long as you remembered to make room for them in your budget then you really can buy something small, like a cup of coffee at the bookstore café, without feeling guilty. Enjoy that snack from the vending machine – if you really must! Just keep track of the small purchases, and once you’ve reached your limit, stop.

Don’t shop for Textbooks at the Campus Bookstore

One of the biggest budgeting tips for college students is save money on your books! I don’t know about your college’s bookstore, but mine was a bona fide racketeering enterprise! The prices students were charged for required textbooks should have been illegal. I was lucky that I wasn’t majoring in the hard sciences—textbooks for those classes could easily reach $300 for one book! My English Lit books were cheaper, but I had to buy 12 of them at a time for a single course.

Thankfully, a new technology was invented 30 or so years ago. You might have heard of it—it’s called the internet.
Seriously, buy all your books online. Look for used copies on Amazon. Scavenge for books on Craigslist. Find an online forum where you can swap books with other students. Whatever route you go to acquire your texts, try to avoid the campus bookstore like you would the plague. This simple tip will single handedly save your college budget.

It took me about three semesters before I figured out I could buy my textbooks online and pay a fraction of what I was spending at the bookstore. My emotions upon making this discovery ranged from feelings of betrayal all the way to outrage – with a little triumph once the purchases were made online and I realized how much money I had left over to spend on the vending machines…

So there you have it, my top two financial tips for new college students. For more in-depth budgeting advice, take a personal finance course or visit a financial aid advisor at your college. Oh, and when you do save money on book purchases, ask that cute girl in [insert name of class here] out!

Do you have any of your own budgeting tips for college students? Share your tips in the comments section below. Don’t forget to check out our regular blogs for more great budgeting tips.

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