Record your actual expenses. Carry a small notebook or use a phone app to record even the smallest expenditures such as coffee, movie tickets, snacks, and parking. Some expenses that are often ignored include music downloads, charges for extra cell phone usage, and entertainment expenses. Search for an online tool to assist you—many are free!
Organize your records. Decide what system you’re going to use to track and organize your financial information. There are mobile apps and computer-based programs that work well, but you can also track your spending using a pencil and paper. Be sure to be consistent and organized, and designate a space to store all your financial information. Good record-keeping saves money and time!
Create a routine. Manage your money on a regular basis, and record your expenses and income regularly. If you find that you can’t record your expenses every day, then record them weekly. If you wait longer than two weeks to record information, you may forget some transactions and be overwhelmed by the amount of information you need to enter.
Include a category in your budget called “Unusual.” There will be some expenses every month that won’t fall neatly into one category or that you couldn’t have planned for. An “Unusual” category will help you budget for these occasional expenses.
Review your spending for little items that add up to big monthly expenditures. The daily cup of coffee and soda at a vending machine will add up. Consider packing your lunch rather than eating out every day. Spending $10 a day eating out during the week translates to $50 a week and $200 a month. A $5 packed lunch translates into a savings of $1,200 a year. Save even more by looking for ways to manage and reduce your transportation and entertainment expenses.
Make your financial aid credit balance refund last. If your school applies your financial aid to your tuition and fees and there’s money left over, the school will refund that money to you so you can use it for other education-related expenses (textbooks, transportation, food, etc.). Remember that your financial aid is supposed to help you cover your cost of attendance for the whole semester or term, so be sure to make that refund stretch over time rather than spending it all as soon as you get it.
Comparison shop. Comparison shopping is simply using common sense to compare products in an attempt to get the best prices and best value. This means doing a little research before running out to buy something, especially when it comes to more expensive items. Make the most of tools like phone apps for comparing prices and value.
Use credit cards wisely. Think very carefully before you decide to get your first credit card. Is a credit card really necessary, or would another payment option work just as well? If you receive a credit card offer in the mail, don’t feel obligated to accept it. Limit the number of cards you get.
Don't spend more on your credit card than you can afford to pay in full on a monthly basis. Responsible use of credit cards can be a shopping convenience and help you establish a solid credit rating and avoid financial problems. Consider signing up for electronic payment reminders, balance notices, and billing statement notifications from your credit card provider.
Free Apps for Budgeting:
LearnVest. This app makes budgeting easy by securely linking to your bank account, and filing your purchases into pre-named folders like Entertainment, Groceries, Restaurants and ATM/Cash, or you can create your own. You can set a budget for each folder, as well as for essentials like rent, student loans and car payments.
Mint. This popular budgeting app also connects directly to your bank account and updates your spending automatically. You can create any number of budgets, and they can get as specific as you like: coffee, movies, alcohol and other college student necessities will all be accounted for. If you’re using a credit card for the first time, it makes sure you’ll never charge what you can’t pay back. The Cash vs. Credit feature lets you see your total credit card balances versus the cash you have to pay them off.
Slice. This keeps all the details from online purchases in one place, from receipts to shipping information. It even sends a notification when your package ships so you can keep an eye out for the delivery truck if you live off-campus. It also keeps your entire purchase history so you can upload it to a budgeting app all at once.
Check. Check (formerly Pageonce) is more of a payment and bill tracker than a budgeting app, but keeping track of bill payment for the first time can be tough to get used to, especially with everything else on a college student’s plate. You can pay bills directly from the app, so you’ll never pay a late fee, and even track investments, if you’re particularly ambitious!
PayPal Mobile. Does your friend owe you $20 but never seems to have cash on hand? If any two people have a PayPal account, they can make a transaction of any size using this app. You can also use it to pay online at restaurants, bars, etc.
Expensify. Expensify allows you to track a variety of expenses. Cash expenses, such as services paid by the hour, can be entered manually or using the SmartScan feature, which uses optical character recognition (OCR) to read and input the merchant name, transaction date and amount. You are allowed ten free SmartScans per month; after that, each SmartScan costs 20 cents.
Hello Expense. The free Android utility makes it easy to store expense info on the go. When you open the application, you're greeted with a plain black-and-white form with a small handful of fields: the date, the expense category, the expense amount and any memo or tags you wish to add.
MoneyWise. The app has functions for generating charts and graphs; it can also track budgets and create regular backups on your device's storage. MoneyWise can export data in CSV or HTML formats; that data can then be sent via email or to any sharing-capable Android app.
*The university has no association with these apps. They are simply a tool to assist budgeting purposes.