The best budgeting spreadsheet for college students

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Hanna Horvath, CFP®

Hanna Horvath, CFP®


Hanna Horvath is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and managing editor for growth at Policygenius. She helps produce the Easy Money newsletter, and owns all growth initiatives for Easy Money. She recently passed her exam to become a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ in November 2020.

Hanna's work has appeared in NBC News, Business Insider and Inc. Magazine. She is regularly quoted in top media outlets, including CNBC, Best Company and HerMoney. She has also appeared on the Money Moolala podcast and All's Fair podcast.

Prior to Policygenius, Hanna wrote for KNBC in Los Angeles and WNBC in New York. When she isn't writing, she's (often) running, (usually) cooking and (sometimes) doing photography.

Published December 4, 2018|1 min read

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You’re in college. Your diet consists of boxed mac and cheese and cereal and all your money goes to books, school supplies and the occasional night on the town. While you may not be worried about things like 401(k) contributions, a mortgage yet, or getting covered by life insurance, you still can be setting money goals for yourself.

The easiest way to stay on track? Budgeting.

This simple template measures income against expenses — you can download the one below and personalize it to fit your lifestyle.

Here's how to use it:

  1. Enter your cash-on-hand and any sources of income, including allowances and take-home-pay from a part-time job.

  2. Add your fixed expenses (like your meal plan or apartment rent) and estimate how much you'll be spending on unfixed but essential expenses (like groceries or school supplies).

  3. Add spending levels for wants like clothing, travel expenses and that 'necessary' 3 a.m. pizza.

  4. Track your spending to see how much you're spending month-to-month. If you find yourself consistently going over budget in a certain category, you may want to tweak your budget or figure out a way to lower your expenses.

Budgeting tips for college students

A couple things to think about before you build your budget:

  • Include how much you are contributing to tuition. Whether you're supported by your parents or financial aid, you may still have a chunk of change to pay your university each year. Have a realistic talk with your parents to figure out how much you’ll owe each month, and whether getting a part-time job could be a good financial move.

  • You may have to take out student loans to cover the cost of college, but be smart about what you're spending that money on. Here's a list of costs you should avoid.

  • Consider getting a credit card and/or bank account to manage and track your finances. If you are under 21 and aren’t working, you'll need a co-signer (your parent or another adult).

  • Check out this ultimate college checklist to get you prepared before you step on campus.

After you got the whole budgeting thing down, consider taking it to the next level. Saving up for a spring break trip with friends? Want to start building your nest egg in case of an emergency? The beauty of a budget is that it can change based on your wants and needs — just adjust accordingly and get tracking.

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