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Budgeting for College Students

Local college student and Bay Federal member Claire, offers advice to future college students on managing your money at school

Going to college is fun, exciting, and a little scary. It’s also a huge step in becoming an adult because you will have to manage your own money. Here are some ideas that can help:

Have “the money talk.” Talk to your parents about money before you leave for college to find out about things like how much money you’re going to have to spend each month, where that money is coming from, and what you will have to buy for yourself. You should also talk about:

  • What has already been paid for and what still needs to be paid (housing, tuition, books, etc.).
  • Whether you will eat in the cafeteria or buy and cook your own food.
  • If you’ll need to get a job or apply for financial aid or student loans.

Make a budget. Having a budget will help you keep track of your money so you’ll know what you can spend on things like food, transportation, and fun. You can build your budget with a budgeting app (there are lots of free ones in the app stores) or use the budgeting worksheet at

Track your spending. Write down everything you spend – and I mean everything – or use an app to track spending on your phone. Add up your expenses at the end of each week to make sure they are less than or equal to your weekly allowance. If they aren't, you will need to figure out how to spend less (see “Spending Less at School” below).

Check your account. Use online and mobile banking to keep track of your money and your account balance, and check your monthly statement as soon as you get it to make sure there are no errors. If you find any, call the Credit Union right away.

Prioritize. If you buy those $40 shoes, will you have enough cash for the rest of the week? If the answer is no, wait for the shoes and save the money for things that you really need.
It’s not going to be easy to follow a budget 100% of the time, but it is the best way to make sure you don’t run out of money. It’s also a skill that can help you throughout your life. Just try your best to stay on track; you can do it!

Spending Less at School

Money Saving Ideas for College Students – from a College Student

  • Look for sales
  • Buy discounted bulk items with a group of friends
  • Find free entertainment, movies, and concerts on campus
  • Make your own food and coffee
  • If you have only a few laundry items, wash them by hand
  • Ask about student discounts before you buy anything

10 Important Things to Do Before Going to College

  1. Learn your Social Security Number (and NEVER keep your Social Security card in your wallet).
  2. Plan a budget.
  3. Set up a checking account with overdraft protection.
  4. Get a debit card.
  5. Find free ATMs close to your school  (see page 2 for information on free  CO-OP Network ATMs).
  6. Register for online and mobile banking.
  7. Apply for a credit card to use only in case of emergency.
  8. Get a planner for class schedules and homework due dates.
  9. Figure out a safe place to put your financial information and valuables.
  10. Read all “new student” materials so you’ll know what to do when you get to your new school!
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