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Last update: March 7, 2024

7 minutes read

What is a Budget? Personal Finance Tips with TuitionHero

Master college finances with effective budgeting tips, tools, and insights from TuitionHero experts. Boost your personal finance skills today!

By Brian Flaherty, B.A. Economics

Edited by Rachel Lauren, B.A. in Business and Political Economy

Ever felt the weight of newfound independence paired with the pressure of managing your own finances? What if I told you there's a secret to nailing those financial challenges and properly managing your student loans? Well, buckle up, because we're diving deep into the world of college finances and how to rock a budget!

Key takeaways

  • A budget isn't restrictive; it's a plan tailored to your priorities
  • Digital budgeting apps offer real-time insights but come with their own challenges
  • Regularly revisiting and adjusting your budget is essential for financial success

    What is a budget?

    A budget is your financial game plan, anticipating and organizing expenses so you're never caught off guard. It's not about restricting every penny but rather planning for the things that matter most to you and making sure you're always in the driver's seat of your financial journey.

    Why is crafting a college budget important?

    Alright, let's get down to brass tacks. First off, why all the buzz about college budgets? Well, college is jam-packed with firsts. It's like your episode of Stranger Things, where you're constantly exploring the upside-down world of adulting.

    It's your first time making big decisions, from choosing a major to deciding whether to splurge on that insane concert ticket or save up for textbooks. But here's the thing: without a solid financial game plan, you're sailing without a compass!

    Why is budgeting important?

    Budgeting isn't about saying "no" to every little splurge. Think of it like this: it’s your financial Spotify playlist, where you get to decide the tracks (expenses) that deserve the top spots and which ones to skip.

    1. Priority check: Determine what's essential and what's a luxury. Want to dine out every weekend? Or maybe saving up for a summer adventure is more your thing? Your budget should mirror your college life aspirations.
    2. Avoid nasty surprises: With a budget, you're prepared. No more awkward moments where your card gets declined at the campus coffee shop.

    I used to think that having a budget would mean I couldn’t spend any more money on the things I wanted. Over time, I realized a budget gave me the discipline to save enough so that I wouldn’t have to stress about buying that new video game or going out to a fancy restaurant!

    How do you create a solid college budget?

    First things first, take a look at your current expenses and write them all down. Going into your banking apps could be helpful here. Here's a quick rundown:

    • Necessary expenses (Needs): This isn't just about tuition. We're talking rent, utilities, groceries, and other essentials.
    • Personal expenses (Wants): Yeah, this is where your Netflix, Amazon Prime, and those midnight snack runs come into play.
    • Infrequent expenses: These are those sneaky, sometimes unexpected costs, like flying home for holidays or fixing a broken laptop right before finals (yikes!).

    Now, where's the money coming from? List out your income sources. Consider things like:

    • Part-time jobs
    • Allowances or stipends
    • Student loans or financial aid

    Simple budgeting tools

    There are a plethora of apps out there that can do wonders for your finances:

    • Google Spreadsheets: A simple yet powerful tool for budget management. You can create custom spreadsheets to track your income, expenses, and savings goals. Google Sheets also allows for complex calculations and can be accessed from any device, making it a versatile option for budget planning.
    • Mobile Banking Apps: Most banks offer sleek apps that provide real-time insights into your spending. Some even categorize your expenses, so you see where your money is going.
    • Expense Trackers: Apps like Mint (sold to Credit Karma as of December 2023) and YNAB can sync with your accounts, track your spending, and even set up budgeting goals, and apps like Debbie offer cash rewards for meeting those debt payoff and savings goals.

    How to keep the budget ball rolling?

    Now that you know how much you’re spending, figure out if it makes sense, and adjust it to create your “ideal” budget. Rule of thumb: your “needs” should be around 50% of your budget, “wants” around 30%, and the rest for savings, paying off debt and investing.

    Creating the budget is just the opening act. Sticking to it? That's the real gig.

    1. Stay real: Let's get one thing straight. If you think you'll cook every day to save money, but you've never turned on a stove, you're setting yourself up for failure. Start slow.
    2. Automate: Trust me on this; it's a game-changer. Set up auto-payments for fixed bills. And hey, why not automate savings while you're at it?

    What if I hit a budget bump?

    Life's not always a smooth ride, and you'll definitely run into financial hiccups. Maybe you overspent at that crazy Black Friday sale or forgot to account for a club membership fee. It happens to the best of us. The key? Adjust, adapt, and keep moving forward.

    I review my budget on the first of every month to see how I did sticking with my plan. Sometimes I realize that my life circumstances have changed and I need to set new goals - a good budgeting system should be adaptable.

    Before wrapping up, here’s a quick cheat sheet of do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when navigating the waters of college budgeting:


    • Plan and anticipate expenses

    • Regularly review your budget

    • Seek advice and tools

    • Adjust and adapt as needed


    • Overspend without reviewing

    • Ignore financial education resources

    • Assume one size fits all

    • Forget about emergency funds

    Advantages and disadvantages of using digital budgeting apps

    In the digital age, many tools and apps promise to streamline our financial journey. But like everything else in life, digital budgeting apps come with their own set of pros and cons. Let’s take a closer look.

    Advantages of digital budgeting apps

    • Real-time updates: With instant notifications and updates, you're always in the know.
    • Accessibility: Your financial data is at your fingertips, anytime, anywhere.
    • Visual insights: Many apps offer graphs and charts, making it easier to understand spending habits.
    • Automated savings: Some apps automatically transfer money to savings, helping you reach your goals faster.

    Disadvantages of digital budgeting apps

    • Privacy concerns: With data breaches becoming more common, there's always a risk involved in sharing financial information.
    • Over-reliance: Relying solely on apps might make you less hands-on and attentive to your finances.
    • Hidden fees: Some apps might have monthly fees or charges that aren't immediately obvious.
    • Inaccuracies: No app is perfect. There might be occasional glitches or misrepresentations of your financial data.

    How TuitionHero can help

    We at TuitionHero understand the rollercoaster ride of college finances better than anyone. Why? Because we've crafted a platform dedicated to helping students like you navigate those treacherous financial waters.

    From Private Student Loans to Scholarships, we've got your back. Confused about FAFSA? We'll guide you through it. Need advice on Student Loan Refinancing? We're your resource. And for those looking to get a grip on their credit, we offer some solid Credit Card options tailored for students.

    Final thoughts

    While this blog post has given you a blueprint for managing your college finances, TuitionHero is your toolkit. We're here to make sure you not only understand the ins and outs of budgeting but also have the resources to make smart choices. With us by your side, you're not just planning a budget; you're crafting a better financial future.

    Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

    Not tracking all expenses, underestimating costs, not setting aside money for emergencies, and confusing wants with needs are common financial pitfalls.

    'Needs' are essential for basic living, such as food and housing. 'Wants' are non-essential and include things like entertainment and dining out.

    Establish clear financial priorities, allow room in your budget for occasional treats, and propose cost-effective activities to your friends.

    You should review your budget monthly or whenever there's a significant change in your financial situation, such as a new expense or a change in income.



    Brian Flaherty avatar

    Brian is a graduate of the University of Virginia where he earned a B.A. in Economics. After graduation, Brian spent four years working working at a wealth management firm advising high-net-worth investors and institutions. During his time there, he passed the rigorous Series 65 exam and rose to a high-level strategy position.


    Rachel Lauren avatar

    Rachel Lauren is the co-founder and COO of Debbie, a tech startup that offers an app to help people pay off their credit card debt for good through rewards and behavioral psychology. She was previously a venture capital investor at BDMI, as well as an equity research analyst at Credit Suisse.

    At TuitionHero, we're not just passionate about our work - we take immense pride in it. Our dedicated team of writers diligently follows strict editorial standards, ensuring that every piece of content we publish is accurate, current, and highly valuable. We don't just strive for quality; we aim for excellence.

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