Smart Money Moves: 18 Student Budgeting Tips

Written by
Student Budgeting Tips

Maybe you’re new to this whole independence thing, and your bank account isn’t exactly overflowing. Instead of drowning in financial stress, there’s a way to stay afloat. Budgeting is the key – a valuable resource and skill that you’ll want to master. 

Talking about budgeting is one thing, but truly becoming a pro at money management is a whole different ball game. It becomes even more challenging when you’re navigating the uncharted waters of college life. Learning the basics of budgeting is a crucial life skill that you don’t want to fail at, to the point where it takes years to recover. 

So, keep reading for some handy student budgeting tips that will effortlessly guide you through your college years without emptying your bank account.

Why is budgeting necessary for students?

Budgeting helps you stay in control of your money and avoid getting into unnecessary debt. When you create a budget, you can decide where your hard-earned cash goes. It’s basically setting priorities for your expenses. Plus, with a budget, you can make sure you’re keeping up with your student loans and not falling behind on payments.

Budgeting also allows you to save money for those unexpected emergencies that life sometimes throws your way at the worst times. It’s like having a safety net for those unexpected expenses. And here’s the best part: When you have a budget, you can make informed financial decisions. You’ll know exactly how much you can spend on things like entertainment or eating out without going overboard.

18 brilliant student budgeting tips 

Here are some brilliant tips that can help you manage your finances like an absolute pro.

1. Set short-term and long-term financial goals

Setting goals is an essential part of budgeting. Start by identifying what you want to achieve financially in the short term (within a few months) and the long term (over a year or more). For example, your short-term goal could be saving up for a spring break trip, while your long-term goal could be paying off your student loans. Having clear goals will give you direction and motivation to stick to your budget.

2. Differentiate between needs and wants

Understanding the difference between needs and wants is crucial when budgeting. Needs are the essentials like rent, groceries, and transportation, while wants are the extras like eating out or buying new gadgets. Make sure you prioritize your needs and allocate a portion of your budget for wants. It’s OK to indulge occasionally, but be mindful of your spending to avoid overspending on unnecessary things.

3. Use a budget planner

A budget planner is your best friend when it comes to tracking your finances. You can use a notebook, a spreadsheet, or budgeting apps to keep track of your income and expenses. List all your income sources and subtract your expenses from it. Visually seeing your expenses and where your money goes can really be eye-opening. Once you know what you’re spending, you can look for things you can trim. Like maybe you don’t really need those seven streaming apps. 

4. Calculate your weekly budget

Breaking down your budget into weekly segments can make it more manageable. Calculate your monthly income and expenses, then divide them by the number of weeks in that month. This way, you’ll have a set amount you can spend each week without overspending. Be sure to adjust your budget as needed if you have irregular income or expenses.

Say your net income for the month is $1,000. Dividing this amount by four weeks would give you a weekly budget of $250. Now, armed with this information, you have a set amount you can spend each week without worrying about exceeding your financial means.

5. Track your expenses

Keep a close eye on your spending by tracking your expenses diligently. Whenever you make a purchase, big or small, jot it down in your budget planner or use expense tracking apps. This practice will help you identify any areas where you’re overspending and allow you to make adjustments to stay within your budget. It’s the little expenses that can add up — like those daily snacks from the vending machine — so be mindful of where your money is going.

6. Take advantage of student discounts

Many businesses and establishments offer special discounts exclusively for students, ranging from clothing stores to movie theaters, restaurants, and software subscriptions. To make the most of these discounts, always carry your student ID with you and inquire about student discounts wherever you go. It’s a simple way to save some extra cash while still enjoying the things you love. For instance, you might score a 10% discount on clothing or get discounted movie tickets on certain days of the week. 

7. Cut out nonessential purchases

Trimming nonessential purchases is an effective strategy for budgeting success. Take a close look at your spending habits and identify any unnecessary expenses that you can do without. Do you really need that daily cup of expensive coffee from the café near campus? 

8. Use your credit card wisely

Having a credit card can be convenient, but you’ll really want to focus on using it responsibly to avoid unnecessary debt. Limit your credit card usage to essential purchases and emergencies, rather than relying on it for everyday expenses. Aim to pay off your credit card balance in full each month to avoid accumulating interest charges. If you’re unable to pay the full balance, try to pay more than the minimum amount due to reduce interest costs. By using your credit card wisely, you can build a positive credit history and avoid falling into debt traps that can impact your financial future.

Credit Builder Plus (CB+)* is our powerful credit-building membership, and it’s designed to help our members build or repair their credit, save, establish financial literacy and track their financial health. CB+ can help you build or improve your credit with access to a Credit Builder Plus loan. A Credit Builder Plus loan is a small loan that is held in a secure account while you make monthly payments. As you make payments, CB+ reports them to the major credit bureaus, which can help boost your credit score with on time payments. Plus, you get access to some of the loan funds as soon as they are approved, so you can use them for whatever you need. CB+ is a smart way to help improve your credit while paying off your debt. By improving your credit score, you could qualify for lower interest rates on future loans or refinancing options. And by paying off your Credit Builder Plus loan on time, you can reduce your debt-to-income ratio, which could also improve your credit score.

9. Plan ahead your grocery shopping

Planning your grocery shopping in advance can be a game-changer for your budget. Before heading to the store, make a list of the essential items you need and stick to it. Avoid impulsive purchases and be mindful of sales or discounts on items you regularly use. Consider meal planning to avoid unnecessary food waste and make the most of your groceries. 

10. Look for scholarships or bursaries

When it comes to financing your education, exploring scholarship and bursary opportunities is a smart move. Research and apply for scholarships that align with your field of study, personal achievements, or specific criteria you meet. Scholarships can provide financial assistance, reducing the burden of student loans. 

You’ll also want to look into bursaries offered by your college or external organizations, as they provide grants based on financial need. Taking the time to search for and apply to these opportunities can potentially save you thousands of dollars in tuition fees and expenses.

11. Find alternative household supplies

Being a broke college student means stretching every dollar. One way to save some cash is by finding alternative household supplies. Forget the fancy name brands that cost an arm and a leg. Instead, check out the store-brand or generic products. They often have the same quality but at a much lower price. 

12. Reduce your outgoings

Reducing your outgoings means finding ways to cut back on your regular expenses. Take a close look at your monthly bills and subscriptions, such as cable TV, streaming services, or gym memberships. Evaluate whether you’re getting value for money and consider canceling or downgrading services you don’t use or can live without. 

13. Start a meal plan

Take a little time each week to plan out your meals in advance. Consider your dietary preferences, look for recipes that use ingredients you already have, and take advantage of weekly sales at your local grocery store. By having a plan and a shopping list, you’ll avoid impulsive purchases and minimize food waste. 

14. Check your transportation costs

Transportation expenses can sneak up on your budget, but there are ways to keep them in check. Take a closer look at how you get around and see whether there are opportunities to save. Carpooling with friends or using public transportation can reduce fuel costs and parking fees. If you own a car, make sure to keep up with regular maintenance to avoid unexpected repairs. And don’t forget to explore any student discounts or special rates for public transportation passes. 

15. Open a student savings account

Look for banks or credit unions that offer special accounts designed just for students. These accounts often come with perks like no monthly fees and higher interest rates, helping your savings grow. Make it a habit to set aside a portion of your income regularly. Even small amounts add up over time.

MoneyLion offers a convenient marketplace to compare high-yield savings accounts** from our trusted partners that could help grow your money. 

16. Reevaluate your gym membership

College can be chaotic, and finding time to hit the gym regularly is a challenge. Reevaluate your gym membership. Are you really making the most of it? If you find yourself skipping gym sessions more often than not, it might be time to consider other options. Fitness apps and online workout programs are viable alternatives that you can do right from your dorm room or apartment. 

17. Set aside money for savings

Saving money might not be the most exciting thing, but it’s a game-changer. Make it a habit to set aside a portion of your income on a regular basis. It might feel like you barely have enough to cover your expenses, but even saving a small amount can make a big difference in the long run. Start by setting a realistic savings goal — it could be a certain percentage of your income or a fixed dollar amount each month. Treat it like a bill that needs to be paid, and put that money into a separate savings account. 

Those few dollars will add up faster than you think. And having that safety net for unexpected expenses or an epic post-graduation trip will make it all worth it. 

18. Create sources of income

Consider taking on a part-time job or freelancing gigs that fit around your class schedule. Many colleges also offer work-study programs that allow you to earn money while gaining valuable experience. If traditional employment isn’t feasible, explore online platforms where you can offer your skills or services, such as tutoring, graphic design, or writing. You might be surprised at the demand for your talents. 

Acing Your Way to Financial Success 

By following these simple budgeting tips, you can be the master of your financial game, just like acing your favorite subject in college. Just as you approach your studies strategically, these small changes and conscious choices could be your winning formula for securing your financial well-being. So, get ready to take control of your budget and make your future self proud.


Should you have an emergency fund as a student?

Absolutely. Having an emergency fund as a student is a smart move. It provides a safety net for unexpected expenses like medical bills, car repairs, or unexpected textbook costs. Aim to save a portion of your income regularly, and gradually build up your emergency fund over time.

What are some common mistakes students make when budgeting?

One common mistake is underestimating expenses. Students often overlook small recurring costs like coffee runs or eating out, which can add up quickly. Another mistake is failing to track expenses and monitor their budget regularly. It’s important to review and adjust your budget as needed to ensure you’re staying on track and making informed financial decisions.

How can you stick to your budget?

Sticking to your budget requires discipline and mindful spending. Start by setting realistic goals and priorities. Avoid impulsive purchases and stay focused on your needs rather than wants. Track your expenses regularly, use budgeting apps or tools to help you stay organized, and find accountability partners like friends or family members who can support and encourage your budgeting journey. Remember, every small step counts, and staying committed to your budget will lead to financial success.

Sign Up
Sign Up

Fast, interest-free advances anytime

Get Instacash advances up to $500 for everyday expenses or life’s surprises. There’s no credit check, no monthly fee, and no interest.

Sign Up