Whether you are an American student or an international student, living on a college student budget is part of the experience of studying in the US. Focusing on your studies full time often means you are probably not bringing in much income, if any, and are most likely working with a limited amount of money each semester. One of the best ways to keep track of your money is to use a budget planner app.
Creating a budget helps you allocate money for textbooks and regular expenses—while making sure that you have enough money left to spend for having fun, too. Using a personal expense tracker app is a good way to remove stress around your budget and help create healthy financial habits. Even better, these money management skills will serve you long after graduation.
Why it is important to create a budget plan for college students
Budgets and personal expense trackers help you recognize the difference between the things you want (like a new video game) and the things you need (like textbooks). When you understand these differences, you can start to form better spending habits. For example, ordering food delivery while you are up late studying seems like no big deal, but doing this twice a week can really add up over the course of a semester.
The Federal Student Aid Office recommends students create a budget each semester to keep you on track and make sure all your student fees and textbooks are considered. So, when it comes to purchasing non-essential items, ask yourself the following questions:
Do I need this?
Can I afford it?
Would it be better if I saved the money?
How much money does a college student need monthly? It is different for every student—and mostly depends on the cost of living on and near your campus, and what your particular wants and needs are. It might even vary based on the classes you are taking and how far along you are in your major. (Necessary equipment for a video game design major, for example, may be more expensive than the required books for a literature major.) With any budget, the goal is to make sure you have enough money to cover all your expenses each month, so you do not have to go into debt.
Simple ways to save money and stick to a budget
Keeping a notebook of your income and expenses is a simple way to see how much money you have and what you are spending, but there are more modern ways to see your overall financial picture. For example, schools like Louisiana State University provide students with an expense tracker spreadsheet to help them track spending.
While simple digital tools like Google Sheets expense tracker can help, budgeting apps and money saving apps are even more advanced when it comes to keeping track of spending.
Here are just a few to check out.
Best budgeting apps for college students
Different monthly budget apps will have varying features and uses, from acting as a spending tracker, creating and managing an overall budget, and serving as a bill planner. You can get some budgeting apps free, while others charge a fee. No matter which you choose, make sure to select a budget app with a high rating and a secure interface to safeguard your money and personal finance data.
Here are a few of the best budgeting tools for students:
Your bank’s mobile app. Many banks offer tools to keep track of your budget through their own app. These are directly connected to your personal checking and/or savings accounts, so they update your available funds in real time. You may want to ask about a bank’s app capabilities when opening a new account.
Mint is one of the original budget planner apps: it links directly to your bank accounts, debit card, and credit cards to automatically update your expenses, so you can use it as a daily expense tracker and a bill planner. It allows you to set budgets for your different priorities, whether that means textbooks or a spring break vacation. It also helps you to incorporate any credit accounts you may have—so you can keep an eye on your full financial picture.
YNAB, short for You Need a Budget, is another top budget planner app. It costs $50 a year, but students get their first year free. YNAB is an expense tracker app that asks users to assign every dollar to what it will be used for, which removes a lot of the uncertainty over where your money is going. This is called zero-based budgeting and it is a great way to plan ahead for the semester. Many consider YNAB to be one of the best budget apps for Android.
Splitwise is a personal expense tracker app for shared expenses. Whether you and a roommate take turns buying cleaning supplies, your study group members alternate buying snacks, or you go on a trip with some classmates, you can use this spending tracker app to know exactly who spent what. Pay your classmates back (or get paid back) using free peer-to-peer payment apps like Square’s Cash or Venmo.
Pluto Money is a money-saving app created especially for college students, and it focuses on helping students manage their money. The interface is modern and fun to use—it uses game-like challenges to teach users how to budget. This is one of the best apps for daily budgeting (but note it is currently available for iOS only).
How to stick to your budget beyond the apps
When it comes to working with a college student budget, you are not alone. Many students are in a similar financial situation with a low average college student income. This means many of your friends are also trying to find ways to keep their spending under control. Here are a few ways you can save money as a college student in the US—share them with with your friends and save together!
Choose the right meal plan. Sticking to the dining hall or cooking your own food is one way to save money, versus ordering in or going out to eat. But meal plans can also be expensive if you do not use them enough. Once you have spent a semester on campus, you will get a better sense of exactly which meal plan best suits your needs.
Shop around for textbooks. Check Chegg to rent or buy textbooks or e-books for less than you would pay at the campus bookstore (just be certain you are getting the correct edition of the book on your syllabus). You can choose to resell your textbooks there after the semester is over, too. You may want to set alerts on eBay for your books, or check if Amazon offers the books you need for sale or to rent.
Take advantage of student discounts. Movie tickets, museum admissions, yoga classes, and even digital subscriptions are often offered at a lower rate for students. Spotify Premium Student even includes a few free streaming TV channels. Apple offers Education Pricing, which might include extra perks like free AirPods with purchase of a laptop during the beginning of the semester.
Many apps are available to help students succeed. Budgeting apps let you look at your finances closely to ease the stress of managing your money. No matter which app you choose, if you stick with it, you can learn how to handle your money with confidence, now and in the future.
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