Going to college can be an expensive endeavor. Tuition, room and board, books, supplies, transportation, and other costs add up quickly. As a college student, it’s important to budget wisely and not overspend each month. Setting a reasonable monthly budget will help you stay on top of finances and avoid getting into too much debt while in school.
Typical College Expenses
Here are some of the typical costs college students face each month:
Tuition and Fees
- Tuition: $500-$1,500 per month depending on if you attend a public or private university
- Lab fees: $50-$200 for science labs or speciality classes
- Activity fees: $50-$500 to access gyms, sports, clubs, health services
- Dorm room: $500-$1,000 per month for a shared dorm room
- Off-campus apartment: $600-$1,200 for rent per month with roommates
- Utilities: $75-$150 for electricity, internet, etc.
Textbooks and Supplies
- Books: $80-$120 per month depending on number of classes
- School supplies: $30-$50 per month for notebooks, pens, backpack
- Computer and accessories: $50-$150 per month for laptop payments or new equipment
- Campus meal plan: $300-$500 per month for limited dining hall access
- Groceries: $200-$300 per month for cooking your own food
- Eating out: $100-$250 per month for restaurants, fast food, coffee shops
- Gas for car: $80-$160 per month depending on commute
- Car payment: $200-$400 per month if financing a car
- Public transportation: $50-$100 per month for bus or trains
- Parking permit: $40-$80 per month for campus parking
- Entertainment: $100-$250 for concerts, movies, events
- Clothing: $50-$150 per month depending on needs
- Toiletries: $30-$80 per month for soap, makeup, cleaning supplies
- Health insurance: $100-$500 per month depending on your plan
- Gym membership: $30-$60 per month for campus or private gym
- Cell phone bill: $40-$100 per month
- Miscellaneous: $50-$150 per month for unexpected costs
As you can see, costs add up quickly. A student living on campus and getting a meal plan may spend $2,000-$3,500 per month on average. An off-campus student cooking their own food could spend $1,500-$2,500 per month typically. Your actual costs will vary based on your university, program, lifestyle and location.
Recommended Monthly Budgets
When determining a monthly budget, experts recommend allocating your costs as follows:
Housing: 30% of budget
Housing takes the biggest bite out of your monthly costs. On average, aim to spend around 30% of your monthly budget on rent, utilities, and other housing-related expenses if living off campus. Dorm costs may take up to 50% of your budget.
Food: 15% of budget
After housing, food is typically the next greatest expense. Try to keep grocery costs, eating out, and meal plans to around 15% of your total budget. Look for ways to save on food like cooking at home.
Transportation: 10% of budget
Your commute to campus and getting around town should aim to take up about 10% of monthly costs if possible. Cut transportation costs by biking, taking public transit, or carpooling when you can.
Tuition: 20% of budget
Tuition and fees should make up around 20% of your monthly budget on average, but can be higher for expensive private colleges. Apply for scholarships, financial aid, and look for ways to cut tuition costs.
Aim to spend 10% or less on non-essential expenses like entertainment, clothing, hobbies, and other personal expenses each month. Cut costs by finding free or cheap events and activities.
Ideally, you should budget to save at least 10% of your monthly income while in college. Build an emergency fund and save for future expenses like a car or grad school.
Debt Payments: 5%
Keep student loan and credit card debt payments to 5% or less of your monthly budget. Live frugally to avoid needing large loans.
This budget breakdown leaves you with a small weekly allowance for personal spending while covering your needs. Adjust percentages based on your unique costs.
Average Monthly Cost Breakdowns
Here are two sample monthly budgets based on typical costs:
|Tuition and Fees||$1,000||20%|
|Campus Meal Plan||$400||15%|
This sample budget would be typical for a student living on campus with the average costs. The housing, food, and tuition provided by the university makes up 65% of the monthly spending.
Off-Campus Student Budget
|Tuition and Fees||$1,000||20%|
|Rent + Utilities||$800||30%|
In this sample budget, the student lives off campus and has higher costs for rent, food, and transportation. But they save more and have lower activity fees. Their higher income covers the increased costs.
Determine your own expenses and desired lifestyle, then create a personalized budget to guide your spending.
Ways To Save Money For a College Student
Follow these tips to keep college costs down and stick to your budget:
- Live with roommates to cut housing and utility costs
- Cook at home and pack lunches rather than eating out
- Buy used textbooks or rent instead of new
- Use public transportation and walk or bike if possible
- Take advantage of free activities and entertainment on campus
- Find a part-time job for additional income
- Set up a savings account and automatically deposit funds each month
- Avoid credit cards and only borrow what you absolutely need in loans
- Apply for scholarships, grants, and financial aid to help with tuition
- Look for student discounts everywhere from transportation to shopping
- Stick to your budget and track spending carefully each month
Common Monthly Spending FAQs:
How much should I budget for food each month?
Budget $200-$300 per month for groceries if cooking most meals at home. Eating out and coffee shops can add $100-$250 or more per month. Meal plans cost $300-$500 typically.
Is $600 a reasonable amount for rent?
It depends on where you live – rent varies greatly by location. Splitting a two or three bedroom with roommates can make $600 achievable in many college towns. Live further from campus to save more on rent.
Should I pay for Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services?
While streaming services are nice to have, they aren’t necessities. See if you can share logins with family or friends. Or rotate subscriptions month to month to keep costs down.
How much should I budget for gas and car expenses?
For a used economy car with a short commute, budget $80-$120 for gas, $100 for insurance, $50 for registration/taxes, and $100 for maintenance per month. Increase costs for long commutes or newer cars.
Is it ok to spend $150 per month on clothes?
That’s a bit high for most college students unless your work requires professional attire. Aim for $50 per month, using sales and second-hand shops to keep clothing costs low.
Should I include vacation costs in my monthly budget?
It’s smart to budget and save up for vacations rather than funding them through loans. But avoid allocating vacation money from monthly costs – save separately for vacations instead.
Create Your Own Monthly Budget
- List all your sources of income – your job(s), financial aid, family support, etc.
- Document all your expenses based on actual spending, estimates, or averages.
- Categorize expenses into set budgets for housing, food, tuition, etc.
- Adjust budgets to equal your income and align with recommended percentages.
- Track actual spending to fine tune your budget monthly.
- Look for places to cut costs if needed to align with income.
- Budget savings for emergencies, future expenses, and financial goals.
- Avoid taking on unnecessary debt by sticking to your budget.
College is an exciting time full of new experiences – don’t let financial worries weigh you down. Create a monthly budget that covers your needs while allowing room for fun. Live frugally and take advantage of student deals to keep costs down. With smart budgeting, you can make the most of your college experience!
Setting Financial Goals
In addition to budgeting expenses, it’s important for college students to set financial goals to work towards. Having goals provides direction for your finances and helps ensure you’re budgeting and saving appropriately. Consider setting SMART goals:
Specific – Clearly define what you’re saving for.
Measurable – Set a specific amount to save.
Attainable – Make sure the goal is realistic within your timeframe.
Relevant – Choose meaningful goals that align with your values.
Time-bound – Give the goal a specific deadline.
Here are some examples of financial goals for college students:
- Save $2,000 in 12 months for a study abroad trip
- Pay off $5,000 in student loans within 2 years of graduating
- Save $500 this semester for textbooks and supplies
- Invest $100 per month while in college for retirement
- Build a $1,000 emergency fund in 6 months
Set a mix of short-term and long-term goals and break bigger goals into smaller milestones. Automate savings contributions each month to work towards targets. Track progress and adjust your budget to accelerate reaching your goals when possible.
Increasing Your Income
To create more room in your budget, look for ways to increase your income while in college. Here are some ideas to earn extra as a student:
- Get a part-time job 10-15 hours per week
- Freelance in your field – tutoring, web design, writing, etc.
- Participate in paid surveys, studies, or clinical trials on campus
- Sell class notes, study guides, or summaries to other students
- Become a rideshare driver, food delivery driver, or virtual assistant
- Offer your services on task sites like TaskRabbit for odd jobs
- Sell unused items, clothes, or electronics you no longer need
- Use cashback apps and websites when shopping online
Finding just 5-10 extra hours of work per week at $10-$20 per hour can provide an extra $200-$400 per month. That gives you more breathing room in your budget. Consider your skills and schedule to find the right income sources for you.
Handling Unforeseen Expenses
No matter how carefully you budget, unexpected costs inevitably come up. Car repairs, medical bills, family emergencies, and other surprise expenses can derail your budget. Here are some tips to handle unforeseen costs:
- Build an emergency fund with at least $1,000 to cover surprise expenses
- Cut discretionary spending temporarily to free up cash
- Consider using a credit card strategically for short-term financing if paid off quickly
- Communicate with professors, banks, or creditors to request deadline extensions if needed
- Ask family if they can loan you money interest-free in an emergency
- Use campus hardship funds, short-term loans, or apply for scholarships
- Increase work hours or find a temporary side gig if possible
Having a plan in place helps minimize stress and prevent having to take on additional debt when emergencies arise.
Managing Debt Repayment
For many students, some debt through student loans is necessary to pay for college. But it’s important to borrow only what you absolutely need and have a repayment plan:
- Research starting salaries in your field to determine affordable loan amounts
- Stick to federal student loans first before considering private loans
- Make in-school payments towards loans when possible to reduce interest
- Sign up for income-based repayment plans to cap payments after graduation
- Refinance or consolidate loans at lower interest rates when you have good credit
- Make loan repayment a priority in your post-college budget
- Consider living at home temporarily after college to maximize loan payment capacity
Managing college costs through strict budgeting and smart debt minimizes the burden once you graduate.
Handling Budgeting Challenges
It can be difficult at times to stick to your college budget, especially balancing needs like:
- Affording essential textbooks when funds are tight
- Paying for professional attire for internships and jobs
- Finding safe, affordable housing near campus
- Getting access to reliable transportation
- Paying for unexpected medical costs not covered by insurance
Here are some strategies to overcome budget hurdles:
- Apply for every scholarship and grant possible, no matter how small
- Consider sharing textbooks and supplies with classmates
- Take advantage of free resources like wardrobe closets on campus
- Prioritize more affordable housing further from campus if needed
- Use public transportation options and budget for Uber/Lyft in a pinch
- Call doctor offices to negotiate cash discounted rates when possible
- Use student health insurance and campus health services
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from financial aid advisors, campus resource centers, or peers for budget advice and support.
Enjoying College Life on a Budget
While budgeting is important, don’t forget to leave room in your monthly costs to enjoy college! Look for low or no-cost activities like:
- Attending free concerts, comedy shows, and events on campus
- Joining low-cost campus clubs based on your interests
- Taking advantage of discounted student tickets for plays, museums, and movies
- Participating in affordable intramural or club sports
- Trying new hobbies like disc golf, hiking, or photography
- Volunteering on or off-campus to give back and make connections
- Exploring your college town by walking/biking historic neighborhoods
- Relaxing on campus quads, libraries, and recreation facilities
- Hosting potlucks or game nights with friends instead of going out
Finding ways to enjoy college life within your budget will reduce stress and help you make the most of your student experience.
How you spend your money each month as a college student impacts your future financial freedom. Create a realistic budget, make adjustments when needed, and stick to it to make your college funds last.
Budgeting Tips for Different Living Situations
Your monthly costs and budget will vary significantly depending on where and how you live during college. Here are budgeting tips for different living situations:
- Take advantage of a meal plan to get affordable meals
- Split costs of dorm supplies like fridge, microwave, decor with roommate
- Be mindful of utilities like electricity that may be metered separately
- Don’t overspend on dorm furnishings – check thrift stores first
- Weigh high dorm costs against commuting from home or getting an apartment
At Home with Parents
- Pay rent if you can afford it to contribute to costs
- Help buy/cook food and share groceries to offset costs
- Pay for your own gas, car insurance, parking if commuting
- Splurge on special dorm supplies since you save on rent
- Save aggressively since living expenses are low
- Find roommates to share costs – rent, utilities, wifi
- Furnish on the cheap from thrift stores, friends, family
- Budget higher utilities, internet, maintenance costs
- Reduce transportation costs by living near campus
- Cook meals at home and pack lunches to save
Greek (Fraternity/Sorority) Housing
- Account for dues, fees, and house charges in your budget
- Leverage meal plans and discounted room rates
- Clarify what’s included – some houses have higher utility or cleaning fees
- Share supplies and storage space to save
- Take advantage of leadership experience for your resume
Look for the living situation that best balances your costs with needs.
Budgeting Tips for Students with Families
Being a college student with a family brings added financial responsibilities:
- Account for costs of childcare, diapers, and increased food expenses
- Look for universities with family housing and childcare subsidies
- See if you qualify for Head Start, WIC, SNAP, Medicaid, or other assistance programs
- Ask about childcare exchanges or co-ops to trade sitting with other student parents
- Share living costs with other students or young families when possible
- Take courses part-time or online to reduce childcare needs
- Choose a flexible job that accommodates school schedules and kids
- Take turns caring for children between you and your partner to reduce childcare costs
- Accept help from grandparents or extended family when available
While challenging, many student parents successfully complete college degrees with proper budgeting and support. Don’t be afraid to reach out to campus groups and financial aid specialists tailored to your unique needs.
Budgeting for Study Abroad
Studying abroad is an amazing college experience if you can budget for it. Here are some tips:
- Add study abroad costs to your 4-year education budget early
- Shift around school terms to travel during lower-cost times
- Apply for all available study abroad scholarships and grants
- Use student loan money if needed – investment for experience may be worth debt
- Sublet your room when abroad and pause gym/club memberships to save costs
- Get student discounts whenever possible for airfare, trains, attractions
- Budget for basic private rooms and skip expensive hotels
- Cook meals at your accommodation when feasible
- Limit trips home and expensive travel when abroad
Make studying abroad attainable through advance planning, scholarships, budgeting, and choosing affordable program locations.
Handling One-Time Costs
In your first year or when transitioning between on/off-campus living, you may encounter large one-time costs for:
- First month’s rent and security deposit
- Furnishing a new apartment – sofa, bed, kitchen supplies
- Tuition deposits to secure enrollment
- New computer and dorm electronics
- Textbooks for multiple classes
- Storage fees when moving between terms
- Travel costs to/from campus
- Security deposits for utilities
It can be hard to pay for these big expenses, especially before you receive financial aid refunds. Here are some tips:
- Ask parents or family to help with upfront costs if possible
- Apply for the maximum loans your first year to have funds for deposits, furnishings, and books
- Save up all summer for first quarter expenses
- Sell your car or other assets you no longer need
- Tutoring or umpiring sports can bring in cash quicker than traditional jobs
- Donate plasma – you can earn $250-400 per month
- Split costs with roommates when furnishing a shared apartment
Anticipate large initial costs each year in your budget and find creative ways to fund them when needed.
Budgeting for college is challenging but doable. Set reasonable spending estimates, track your actual costs, and adjust your budget to align with income and financial goals each month. Take advantage of discounts, deals, and student resources to lower costs when possible. Don’t forget to enjoy all the fun experiences college has to offer while following a budget!