Planning Your College Budget Ahead of Time: Tips to Making Money Stretch
You need to budget for any social events you will participate in during the course of a year. Even if you do not now know what those events might be. You'll want to figure out how much you will be willing to spend per year on:
Plays and movies
Weekend trips with classmates
It's important to be very, very honest with yourself here. If you will feel deprived if you do not partake in one social event a week, fine. Make sure you budget for that event, and see if you can find cheaper alternatives.
There is a variety of expenses a college student might face while in school. It's important to go through the list of things you might normally spend money on and come up with a workable figure for each category:
Clothing and shoes
Accessories and makeup
At-home entertainment (movies, etc.)
Books for enjoyable reading
Co-pays for health visits
Payments for credit cards
Other child-associated expenses (toys, fees for the child's schooling, health insurance, etc.)
Don't limit yourself to the above lists. Anything you could potentially spend money on needs to be accounted for in your budget. If you smoke, you'll either need to quit or figure out how much money you will be spending on cigarettes. If you take dancing lessons, you will need to account for costs associated with that. Don't judge yet. You'll have plenty of time to axe items when you're balancing the budget.
How You Will Pay?
Now it's time to figure out how you will pay for that. You're only going to take into account confirmed sources of funding including:
Any money in savings
The amount your parents are budgeting to help you with
Any income from a part-time or full-time job
Only list the amounts that currently are guaranteed. Do not count scholarships you have not yet won, money your parents have not yet promised, or a job you have not yet procured. Add that figure up.
Balancing the Budget
If you are a parent and/or are married, do not forget to adjust the amounts you find below to include your spouses income, expenses, child support, and other associated costs and income sources.
If your expenses match your income - or if your income is greater than your expenses - that's great! You'll have to do very little fandangling. However, this isn't always possible. More likely than not, your expense list will exceed your income list. You have a few options when this happens:
Cut your expense budget down to the bare bones. As you go through, ask yourself "Do I really need to spend $120 on a pair of jeans?," "Do I need to see three concerts a year?," etc. Be critical of each of your numbers!
Increase your income. Apply for more scholarships and grants - that's money you don't have to pay back. Apply for a part-time job. Sometimes universities offer work-study funds as part of your scholarship. Take full advantage of these. Come up with an entrepreneurial venture.
Ask your parents if they can help more. Don't count on this. You should only take this measure if you find that even with a job and cutting back expenses to the bare minimum will still not cancel out your expenses.
When looking at your budget, your income and expenses need to match exactly. When you subtract expenses from incomes, the figure should be $0. If you have more income than expenses, budget that excess as savings and emergency fund money. Don't add to your already-budgeted for categories. You never know when you might need an extra thousand bucks for a dental emergency or car breakdown.
You should, at all costs, no matter how savory and seductive the companies make themselves, avoid getting a credit card. This will only add to your bills each year. If you think you need a credit card - which in essence is a short-term, very expensive, loan - you're spending too much money. Additionally, when it comes to student loans, only borrow the minimum amount necessary. Many new graduates have a horrible awakening when they're job-searching and their loans come due. Save yourself the heartache of having $100,000 in debt when you graduate if you can at all do so.
Plan out your budget for each of your years in college. Remember the average student takes between four and six years to graduate. Add up the total cost and the total income. Add up the total loans for that period of time that will accrue. If your loans exceed the income you expect to make in your first year of employment, you might want to reconsider whether right now is the time to go to school. That's a harsh, but necessary, reality to face sometimes. Can you go to a community college for two years to shave off some of your costs on general education courses? That's an excellent option for students who are unsure about what they will major in - and it can save a good deal of money.
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