Courses, Costs, and Calculations

college budget

How to develop a college budget and still have some fun!

Heading to college is one of the most exciting times of your life. You’re about to start the shift from dependence on home and high school resources to greater independence in all areas of your life. If you’re like many young adults, this is the first time that you’ll be experiencing life without the constant oversight of your parents.

Of course, this shift means that there will be more need for you to take responsibility for your finances and understand the longer-term implications of the financial choices you make. For instance, may students may have education loans that will come due when they finish college. Certainly, loans assist in your journey toward your future goals. However, it is important to think about how your budget will allow you to manage the loan payments.

The basic goal of budgeting is simple; your income should exceed your expenses. When you begin a budget, be realistic about your needs and do your homework. Keep track of how you are spending your money today to get an understanding of what your expenses will be. Also, include your parents in this project because they may be able to offer insight into both the income and expenses that you’ll have while pursuing your degree.


When it comes to income, what can you realistically expect? Consider the following categories as sources of income and make a list of how much money you can expect to have from each:

  • Savings
  • Scholarships and grants
  • Jobs or Work Study
  • Student loans
  • Parents

Be sure to confirm your expectations with your parents. You might think Mom and Dad can afford to shower you with money for every want, need or emergency. They might have other ideas. Share an open and honest dialogue about what the next few years may hold.


Next, consider your expenses. Here’s another area where honesty is the best policy – be honest with yourself about needs versus wants. By now you probably know what your tuition and housing costs will run, and that knowledge may be very eye-opening. After deducting those amounts from your income, how much money is left over?

Use that amount to craft the rest of your budget and begin making some choices. Perhaps you may want to slow your daily latte habit so that you can have more set aside for new clothes. Or, perhaps you’ll put new video game downloads on the back burner so that you can afford a night out.

Free Resources and Tools on

Creating a budget helps you focus your finances on what is truly necessary, keeping additional and unnecessary debt to a minimum. Having a budget will be important as you head off to college and throughout your life. Fortunately, there are a lot of great tools on to help you and your parents create a solid financial plan.

  • Budget calculator: A budget calculator will allow you to enter what you earn and the estimated values for various expenses so that you can see how they match up.
  • Financial Basics course: This free online course provided by College Foundation of North Carolina ( will help you create your budget and set financial goals.
  • Budget Savings Tips worksheet: Having trouble bringing your expenses down? These savings tips may help you better align them with your income.


Whether you pay for college out-of-pocket or through loans and other means, it is important to prepare yourself for your pending financial responsibilities. Take time before you leave home to work on this undertaking with your parents’ input, so that you shift confidently into your next semester and are well-positioned to handle loan payments upon graduation, if needed.