Budgeting is usually based on a clear view of how much you make and how much you spend every month. Even without a regular monthly income, you can still start the semester right with a budget!
When you’re a student your income might come from a lot of different places, and most of the time, it’s anything but regular. Oh, you got a big scholarship deposited into your account? You got access to a new year of student loans? Before you go on a shopping spree, hold up - there are ways you can budget that money to last you comfortably all semester.
Here are all the steps you should take to start this semester right with a budget. Trust me, when you’re not relying on ramen noodles to sustain youself during exams, you’ll be grateful you did.
Add up your Income for the Semester
It’s not always easy to figure out exactly how much money you’ll have coming in as a student, because it can come from such a variety of places. However, planning for how much money you’ll have available this semester is the best way to make a budget, and it’s the required first step.
To figure out how much money you’ll have access to this semester, ask yourself a few questions, and find the numbers associated with them.
- How much money will come in irregularly? This can be from income sources like scholarships, loans and bursaries. If you know they’re going to hit your account this semester, add them up to contribute to your total semester income.
- Do you have money coming in regularly? This can be anything from a monthly stipend, a part-time job or even (ahem) payroll from the "Bank of Mom and Dad". If there’s a rough number that you know you can expect to see in your account every month, make sure to take that into account.
Add up those two numbers - your expected irregular income, and how much you think you’ll have coming in on a monthly basis - and divide it by the four months you’ll need it to last this semester. That’s your monthly spending limit.
Look at the Expenses you Know are Going to Come Up
After figuring out your irregular income as part of the first step, it’s also important to look at your irregular expenses, and when they’re going to hit during the semester. You want to make sure you’ll be able to pay for them, and since you know they’re coming, they should never be a surprise!
Spending during a semester can feel really uneven, with big expenses that pop up every few months. To get a plan in place, consider whether you have any of the following costs to cover at some point.
· Extracurricular expenses? This could range from intramural sports team registration to a new outfit for a networking event. Think about it in the context of things you like (or love) to do outside of class.
· Textbooks and class costs? The king of variable expenses is probably textbooks, since they can eat up a big chunk of your budget every semester. Are there other class-related costs you need to consider as well?
· Travel? Whether you want to head home for a visit or your friends are planning a spring break road trip, travel costs tend to be bigger and irregular. Make sure to consider them in your budget.
· Big campus events? Yes, homecoming already happened, but there might be other big campus events you don’t want to miss out on this semester - and they might cost money.
You might identify even more irregular expenses based on your own activities and schedule, but make sure to map them all out and add them up. Your total income for the semester will need to cover those things, and if you end up overspending early, it could be a stretch to make it to the end of the term unscathed.
Consider your regular expenses
You’ve got your total income for the semester, you’ve accounted for your big irregular expenses, and now it’s time to factor in your regularly planned expenses. This could be anything from rent, your food budget or your cell phone bill.
Keeping these expenses low is one of the best things you can do for your semester’s budget. It’s probably hard to change your rent situation right away, but take a look at your other big recurring expenses if you need to cut costs and save some cash. Can you get a cheaper cell phone plan? Can you scale down your food budget? (Budget Bytes is a great resource if you’re looking to spend less on food without relying entirely on ramen!)
Give yourself a bit of fun monthly money
At this point, you might be feeling a little bit stretched - that scholarship money and your student loans might have had you feeling flush until you really looked at all the costs you need to cover - especially if you're trying to pay student loan interest while in school (which you should, if possible).
However, any good budget includes a little bit of frivolous spending money. Even if it’s $20 a month, set aside a tiny bit of cash to treat yourself this semester. It might be your latte fund, or your drinks-at-the-campus-bar fund. If you try not to spend anything at all on fun this semester, you’ll either end up dropping $100 at the mall accidentally, or crying into your pint because you’re so stressed out after midterms.
Go ahead and give yourself a fun budget. The only thing you need to do is make sure you don’t spend more than that in a month on fun stuff. As long as you stay on budget, enjoy it.