Budgeting is an essential skill needed when living off-campus. No longer are all living expenses like food, utilities, costs of amenities like a gym, and housing all covered in a room and board expense paid each semester. When a student lives off campus, he or she has to budget in order to pay monthly rent, pay for monthly utilities of electric, water, and/or gas if not included in rent, pay costs of food and transportation to and from campus, among budgeting for school supplies, activities, and entertainment.
If you are needing assistance with budgeting and knowing how to create a budget, Off-Campus Life hosts budget workshops throughout the year which assist in educating students on what exactly a budget is, how to create a working budget, and why budgeting is important. These workshops also point out the importance of including a category in one’s budget for regular savings, and provide information on some helpful applications and resources that help with saving money.
In case you are unable to attend a budget workshop, but still desire assistance with budgeting, we have included some helpful tips and forms below.
Ten Helpful Budgeting Tips
- Make your budget match your values and goals.
- Include savings as an expense in your budget.
- When budgeting, have a category for miscellaneous expenses.
- If you are having a hard time with overspending, evaluate your wants and needs.
- When planning expenses and income, always guess higher for expenses and lower for income.
- Watch for little expenses that can add up.
- It will take time to really create a realistic budget that works and know what your expenses will be, so don’t get frustrated.
- Budgeting is 20% knowledge and 80% behavior–the hardest part is actually following the budget!
To assist with budgeting, Off-Campus Life has a monthly budgeting template with common budget categories for college students. You can download a copy of this template by following the link below or pick up a hard copy in the Off-Campus Life office.
Helpful Apps to Assist with Saving Money
One of the things Off-Campus Life emphasizes to students about budgeting is the need to include savings (no matter how much) as a budget category. This is not only due to the importance of saving for needed future items, emergency expenses, or student loan debt repayment, but also because the sooner an individual begins to save, the greater their saving potential. Below are some useful applications for help with saving and their descriptions:
This resource helps you find coupons for items or specials and deals within a certain geographic area. You could type in, for example, where you are located, and then search for deals and coupons for shopping in that area.
2. Red Laser
This is an application that actually allows you to scan barcodes of items while you are shopping and see if it is selling for a cheaper price at other stores nearby. It will also allow you to shop for lower prices for these items online.
3. Retail Me Not
This resource also assists you in finding the least expensive retail prices of items so that you can comparison shop from the ease of your phone or computer.
This is a web resource and app that helps you to control your budget and see what your money is usually being spent on. It helps you set a budget, track your spending based on this budget, and see if you are meeting your budget. It also makes suggestions for you on how you could save money.
This resource is an online receipt management service. It helps you to keep your receipts for items all in one place so that you can easily track how much you are spending on various budget categories, and it also keeps you from having to spend time finding receipts that you easily could misplace.
6. Gas Buddy
This is an app that tracks gas prices near your location in real time. That means you can always find, anywhere you are, the gas station offering gas at the lowest price.
7. Deal Oz
This is a website that lets you shop for and compare prices of textbooks so that you can purchase your books for the least amount. It also helps you to sell back textbooks for money as well.
The Envelope System to Help with Sticking to Your Budget
Something that can help you with actually sticking to a budget is by using what we call the “Envelope System.” With this system, you look at what you have budgeted for each spending category on paper, for example your groceries, entertainment, or gasoline. Then you actually go to the bank, get the amount your budgeted for these categories in cash, and put the amount of cash you budgeted into the appropriate envelope. Then you choose to only spend what is in your envelope, and you can track these expenses by writing on the envelope what you purchased in that category and how much it was. With this, you also have to choose NOT to borrow from other envelopes–you spend just what you planned and that’s it. For a copy of a template for these cash envelopes follow this link.