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Tips For Creating a College Budget That Works

Many college students struggle to pay college tuition, but some are finding it hard to even cover their basic needs. A new report from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators says college campuses are responding to an increased need for services such as food pantries and campus vouchers, which cover bookstore materials or dining hall meals. The survey of 523 college campuses found that more than 75 percent had some kind of emergency aid program, but many couldn’t keep up with students’ needs.

The rising cost of college and the recent recession, which could have limited savings and college funds, are playing a big role in college students’ financial health. But many young adults don’t have a college budget. They can take control of their own financial well-being by staking out a solid budget before the first day of class and committing to it until that last final exam.

Helpful Tips Concept

If you or your child is headed to school this fall, here are six tips for making a college budgeting -- and sticking with it.

1. Calculate your resources: Add up the total amount of money that is available to you. That might include income from a work-study or part-time job; an allowance; savings earned during summer work; financial aid; and scholarships.

2. Determine your expenses: Take a hard look at the last couple of months to determine how much you actually spend. To create an accurate budget, it’s critical to be truthful with yourself as you document the amount you’re really spending on everything from food and rent to clothes and entertainment. Check yourself on all of those “miscellaneous” items. If you’re paying out a lot of money on things that can’t really be classified, you need to take a more in-depth look at what you’re spending your money on.

3. Create your budget: Once you know how much you spend and how much money you have, you can build a budget, setting limits based on your past spending. You can start with basic categories such as food, housing, utilities, education expenses and entertainment and add more based on your lifestyle. If your spending is more than your resources, look for ways to cut back or find other ways to boost your income.

4. Prepare to save: Food, housing and clothing expenses should be part of your budget. So should plans to sock a little away for a rainy day. The report from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators found that some students were prepared for tuition and living costs, but an emergency set them into a tailspin, forcing some to drop out of college. Car accidents, illness, and other factors can wreak havoc on even the best budget. Plan for emergencies and set some money aside.

5. Review your progress: Every few months, take a look at your spending to ensure you’re following your budget. During school breaks, parents, especially those who provide allowances to their children, can check in with their students to ask questions and make sure that their basic needs are being met.

6. Download an app: Students might find it easy to track their spending on smartphone apps. The free Mint app for iOS and Android, for instance, lets users pull their accounts, credit cards, and investment into a single spot so they can track their spending, get bill reminders and more. You Need a Budget is another popular online budget system that makes it easy to follow the money.

Creating a solid college budget is a smart way for college students to ensure that while they’re filling their heads with knowledge, their bellies are tanked up, too.

Consumer Education Services, Inc. (CESI) is a non-profit committed to empowering and inspiring consumers nationwide to make wise financial decisions and live debt free. Speak with a certified counselor for a free debt analysis today

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