Being in school is really hard, you’re studying all the time, working whenever you can and usually budgeting for students falls to the end of your to-do list.

I know that most students (and most young people in general) really dislike the idea of budgeting because they see it as restrictive. However, budgeting is awesome because it allows you to plan for the things you want instead of being surprised by the things you need when you have no money left!

This blog post is going to outline a 6-Step Guide for Budgeting for Students as well as 10 of my best money saving tips for students. Ready? Let’s go!

Should You Take Out Student Loans?

For a ton of people, taking out student loans is a necessary evil. It’s either they choose to take out loans or they don’t get to further their education and may be stuck working for minimum wage with no room for advancing their career in the ways they want to.

However, student loan debt is a really daunting idea and can be a hard pill to swallow for a lot of people. So, should you take out student loans?

Unfortunately, this isn’t a question I can answer easily, but I can give you some insight!

If you have parents who are super wealthy and have the money to pay for your college out of pocket, don’t bother, obviously.

However, if your parents are able to pay for some of your college it might be nice to have extra student loan money to pay for textbooks and to help make sure you have enough money to eat.

Taking out student loans really depends on your individual situation and how much debt you’re willing to get into.

An intelligent way of looking at student loans and how much you take out is your ability to earn an income when you graduate. For example, if you’re going to be a liberal arts student, you shouldn’t take out $150,000 of student loans.

However, if you’re going to be a medical student and plan on becoming a surgeon some day, $150,000 is less than you’ll make in a year, so it makes sense to take out student loans to reach that income potential.

girl wearing grey tshirt looking frustrated about having to study on a white background | budgeting for students

Steps for Budgeting for Students

This guide to budgeting for students is an awesome place for you to start when you’re first learning about how to have a budget. I really hope it teaches you something and there are a ton of bonus money saving tips at the end of this guide. Let’s dig in!

1. Set financial goals

The first step in creating a budget, regardless of what stage of life you’re in, is to set financial goals that work best for you. As we discussed in budgeting for teens, chances are your personal financial goals aren’t going to be that serious since you’re still in school, but it’s still important to set them.

I don’t expect you to have save for a mortgage, or save for retirement in your financial goals, but you can start with things like pay off student loans, buy a car, save up a security deposit for an apartment once you graduate, etc.

Before you ever start a budget, you should take a few hours to think about what things you want to accomplish in the next few years and how you can make it happen for yourself. I’m a huge fan of planning my finances in a 5-year time period since it’s far enough in the future where you can plan but not too far out that you won’t be able to accomplish them.

2. Choose a Budgeting Method

There are a ton of different budgeting methods to choose from and each of them has their own pros and cons. It’s never a good idea to just start budgeting without a plan/method of how you’re going to do it.

I have two recommendations for budgeting methods for you to try out and decide which one works best for you:

  1. 50/30/20 Budget: The 50/30/20 budget is a great option because it allows for a bit of wiggle room when creating your budget. The basic explanation of this method is that you put 50% of your budget towards essentials, 30% toward personal choices and 20% toward financial goals. What you do with those percentages is entirely up to you!
  2. Zero Based Budgeting: If I were just starting out budget, I think this is the method I’d choose. It makes a plan for every single dollar you spend and leaves a lot of the guesswork and complication out of it. Essentially, this budget makes your income – expenses = zero.

3. Calculate your total income

Your first real step to creating a budget that works for you is to calculate your total income and find out how much money you actually have to spend.

This should include every single dollar that you’re given throughout the month, it could include:

  • Financial Aid
  • Bursaries
  • Scholarships
  • Part/Full-Time Job Income
  • Internship Income
  • Money from Parents
  • Etc.

If you receive any financial aid where you’re paid a lump sum at the beginning of the semester, it’s important to divide this number by the amount of months it needs to last.

For example, if you have $1000 of financial aid (not including tuition money) and it needs to last you through September, October, November, and December, you’d budget $250 per month. This is important so you don’t run out of money by the end of the first month!

3. Determine your monthly expenses

Since you’re in school full-time, chances are your budget isn’t going to be as complicated as someone who is married with kids. However, it’s still important that you organize your expenses so you know where your money goes each month.

Some expenses that you need to add would be:

  • Rent (if you live off campus)
  • Textbooks
  • Food (groceries, eating out, coffee, etc.)
  • Transportation (bus pass, car insurance, gasoline, etc)
  • Phone bill
  • etc

4. Subtract expenses from income

This part is short and simple. If you have $1,000 to spend each and every month and your expenses are $620 a month, you’ll be left with $380 at the end of the month to do whatever you want with.

5. Decide what to do with the rest

Now that you know how much money you have after your expenses are subtracted, you need to decide where the rest of the money is going to go. The best way to do this is to base it off of your financial goals that you figured out in section one.

Let’s say you want to save $2,000 for a house downpayment when you graduate, you can start a sinking fund for that expense and start putting money toward it each month so that you can afford it sooner rather than later.

6. Monitor and Adjust When Needed

No budget is ever going to be perfect, so it’s important to make sure that you’re working hard to organize your budget and adjust it whenever it needs it.

You should adjust if you start making more money, or less money, or if you find out you have a bigger expense that you’re going to need to pay for.

One of the best things you can do for your budget’s long-term health is to have a monthly budget meeting, even if it’s just you. Having this meeting will make sure you have a dedicated time to rework your budget and make all necessary changes.


1. Don’t pay bank fees

Paying bank fees sucks. There I said it. As a student, you have the opportunity to find a free bank account that offers student services. So, if you’re working with a regular bank account right now, go change that junk to something free.

Once you graduate, you should find a free bank account to use for your everyday spending. If you’re Canadian, I highly suggest you try out Tangerine! That’s my personal bank and I’ve never been happier. You can use the orange code 50681730S1 when you sign up and get $50 FREE when you deposit your first $100.

2. Apply for every opportunity for free money

You’re in college, college is expensive. If you want to be in a better financial position while in school, you should apply for literally every single scholarship, bursary and grant you can find that you could possibly get.

I’ve heard stories about people who applied for bursaries that they weren’t qualified for and since no one else applied they were given the money. Seriously. That happens!

Make applying for cash a part-time job, write all the essays, do all the things. It can also look really good on a resume!

3. Try Cash Envelopes

Cash envelopes are an amazing way to make sure that you’re spending the budgeted amount of money in the ways you intended to while also making sure you can’t spend more money than you actually have.

I’ve used this method personally on a number of occasions and it is an awesome way to save money and stop impulse purchases before they happen.

Check out this post from Budget Mom with all the information you need to start a cash envelope system.

4. Sell Things You Don’t Need

One of my favourite ways to quickly make money in college was to sell old clothing, textbooks, backpacks, and more. It was easy to find people to buy them off me because I was always surrounded by other humans and you could post the listing in your college FB group and someone out there would want it.

Selling things you don’t need will save you a ton of money in the long run because it will help you to minimize your life start making more frugal decisions. Take a few hours to go through your closet and find all the clothes you no longer wear and see how much money you can get from them! You’ll be amazed.

5. Have a separate bank account for large sums

This tip is one of the best ones I have when it comes to budgeting for students because I’ve noticed a ton of students spend all of their financial aid money in the first month of school and then pretty much starve for the rest of the semester.

I suggest that you start a second bank account where you’ll put your student loans, bursaries, scholarships, etc. as well as any lump sums from gifts or things that you get throughout the year.

Then, you set up an automatic transfer from that bank account to your regular everyday account once a week or once every two weeks based on a budgeted amount of money.

This gives you a payday which will make it so much easier for you to budget more successfully since you’ll be working with a smaller amount at a time instead of the bigger amount of money you get at the beginning of a semester.

Bonus Tip: Make sure this bank account isn’t charging you bank fees, we don’t have time for that. If you’re Canadian, use Tangerine like we discussed in the first item of this section.

6. Distinguish Wants vs Needs

If you’re anything like me, you spend a lot of time thinking you need a lot of things that you don’t actually need. I blame instagram.

A really important adult skill you need to learn is how to decide what you want versus what you need in your day to day life. For example, your needs are things like shelter, food, and transportation to classes.

You don’t need to purchase new clothing unless everything you own has holes in it. You don’t need a whole new outfit to go out for drinks this weekend. You don’t need to spend money on brand new textbooks when you can get them used super cheap in comparison.

7. Cut out bad habits

I’ll admit, college is a great time for making bad decisions. It’s a way better option than to wait until you have a full-time job, 2 kids, and a dog. However, cutting down on your bad habits can save you a bunch of money.

If you find yourself running out of money each month you should take a hard look at your spending habits. You can cut out things like smoking, drinking, expensive coffee, nail salon appointments, etc.

Related Post: 7 Habits I Changed That Saved Me $860 Every Month

8. Try sinking funds for bigger purchases

Sometimes we have bigger items that we need to have money for, like Christmas gifts or a huge car repair. One of the best ways I’ve found to save money for these expenses easily is to implement Sinking Funds into my strategy.

A sinking fund is a simple bank account where you pay a certain amount of money each month into an account for a single purpose. For example, if you usually spend $300 a year on Christmas presents, each month you’re going to put $25 into a bank account so by the time December rolls around that money is just waiting for you.

You can read more about sinking funds here: Beginner’s Guide to Sinking Funds.

9. No room for a full-time job? Sidehustle!

When in school full-time it’s hard for a lot of people to hold down a full-time job to help offset costs. Personally, I worked 30-40 hours a week and it was torture, so I wish I could’ve figured out a way to work less and make more.

If you don’t have the time to devote 20+ hours to a job outside of school, you can always start a side hustle! I have a ton of blogging friends who started their websites during college and started making a ton of money without every having to leave their room.

Here’s some articles to read all about side hustling and awesome ways to make more money:

10. have fun

Something I wish I would’ve thought about when in college is that life isn’t that serious. You don’t need to be working 40 hours a week while a full-time student and never having fun with your friends.

If you’d rather spend that $50 on a dinner out than put it in your savings, don’t beat yourself up. You’re young, you need to have fun once in a while or you’ll go crazy and burn out from all the stress! Trust me, I’ve been there and my grades showed it.

Go out for dinner, have drinks with friends (if you’re of legal age in your area, duh), go to the movies! Have some fun.

Final Thoughts

Being a student is stressful and the costs can add up extremely quickly, so I’m glad you decided to learn some tips for budgeting for students. I really hope this article was able to help you learn some great options for saving money and budgeting for students!

If there’s anything you think I should add, let me know in the comments below!

Thanks for reading!

Being in school is scary and stressful but is one of the smartest things you can do for your future, however, money is tight when in college and learning how to budget as a student is extremely important to help you avoid student loans #debt #budget #studentloans