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budget college expenses

Budget College Expenses

Students (and parents of students) should sit down and setup a budgeting plan for the school year. The budget will estimate your available aid sources and the monthly expense you will need for the academic year.

You can download FREE our budgeting worksheet. It allows easy input of your numbers in respective columns and instantly calculates your running cash position:

download download budgeting worksheet (excel file)

college budget

How to Setup a Budget

First step: download the School Budgeting Worksheet
click to download Budgeting Worksheet

(MS Excel worksheet that calculates your running spend and cash position. Requires MS Excel or other spreadsheet to open: try excel viewer if you don't have Excel)

The worksheet is segmented into three sections:

  1. Budgeting Worksheet:
    input cells for entering available financial aid and cost budgets for each academic year

  2. School Years 1-4
    monthly budget and net cash position for each academic year including college online.

  3. Tracking sheets
    recording sheets for tracking scholarships, loans and other aid
college budget step 1

Budget Your Financial Aid for the Academic Year

Open file: college-budget.xls
(MS Excel file should be downloaded to your desktop)

Move to the tab "Budget Worksheet"
and enter all of the available or expected financial aid you will receive for the academic year (either Year 1, Year 2, etc.)

Enter available financial aid amounts for:

  • grants
  • scholarships
  • student stafford loans
  • PLUS loans
  • private student loans

  • college and state aid
  • investment savings
  • work salary
  • other financial aid

Understand that your fixed aid includes:

— grants and scholarships
— stafford student loans
— PLUS loans
— other one-time aid

These aid positions are usually fixed and awarded only once each academic year. You are not likely going to get any more money from these sources during the year.

Understand your variable aid sources include:

— private student loans
— work wages
— other flexible aid

These aid positions are "variable sources" — meaning that you can turn to these aid sources if needed when your cash position becomes low.

This is important information to know when you manage your budget throughout the year.

college budget step 2

Estimate How Much You Can
Spend Each Month

Open file: college-budget.xls
(MS Excel file should be downloaded to your desktop)

Move to the tab "Budget Worksheet"
and scroll down the worksheet to cell number: A30.

Now budget the expected costs for the academic year. Your college is required to send you costs upon acceptance of your application. Make a best estimate on what you expect to spend for:

  • tuition and fees
  • books
  • academic supplies
  • electronics - laptop, printer, etc

  • housing
  • food
  • entertainment
  • transportation (around the campus and town)
  • travel home
  • other

Understand that your fixed expenses, such as:

— tuition and fees
— monthly housing
— monthly insurance payments
— books

are fixed expense -- meaning, that there is nothing you can do to cut these fees. Your financial aid must cover these expenses.

Understand your flexible payments, such as:

— food and home living supplies
— clothing
— transportation (fuel, repairs)
— recreation and entertainment
— travel home

are "variable" expenses. These expenses can be reduced and in some cases eliminated in months where your cash position is low.

college budget step 3

Check the Financing Gap

Open file: college-budget.xls
(MS Excel file should be downloaded to your desktop)

Move to the tab "Budget Worksheet"
and scroll down the worksheet to cell number: A49.

This area shows any financing gap that you may have by subtracting the cost of education from total financial aid. If it shows a negative number, you need to 1 of 2 things:

  1. You need to look for additional aid such as borrowing money using private student loans or by earning wages or by other

  2. You need to decrease some of your budgeted expenses such as food, entertainment, transportation or other

    or do both

You need to generate a positive cash position for the academic year.

college budget step 4

Manage Your Budget

Open file: college-budget.xls
(MS Excel file should be downloaded to your desktop)

Now it's time to view and manage your budget for the year.

Move to the tab "School Year 1 "
(for students attending their first year, and so forth).

The worksheet has allocated your aid and expense budget by month. Your net cash position at the start of your academic year should be positive and equal to your total financial aid (since no money has been spent).

Now move down to Cell: A49

This section shows your budgeted costs allocated by month and by category. This is how much money you have to spend for each category during the academic year. As you start school, you will enter the total money spent under each month for each category.

For example, let's say your tuition bill for the year was $5,000 and paid in full in September. You will enter $5,000 in the "yellow" input cell under September for the category: Tuition and Fees (Cell: G55).

Since you budgeted $5,000 for tuition, the net annual spend position should be $0 (Cell D57). This means that your annual spend equals your budgeted expense. Any additional spend for tuition will put you in a negative spend position.

college budget step 5

Record Your Expenses

Open file: college-budget.xls
(MS Excel file should be downloaded to your desktop)

You must enter "actual spends" each month for each category. Your actual spends include credit card charges, cash payments, checks, and other. You need to keep tabs on everything you expense to make sure you stay within budget.

We have suggestions on how to manage and record your daily spend:

  • TIP 1: use our budgeting tally sheets to record your daily spend. Carry these sheets in your notebook to record daily spend.

  • TIP 2: if you have a electronic hand-held, record your daily spend in the expense area. You can download these expenses to an Excel worksheet.

  • TIP 3: use a pre-paid credit card to load monthly budget amounts. Your card charges can be tracked online to give you a daily spend for each category.
college budget step 6

Watch Your Net Spend Position

You need to watch the "your annual net spend position" for each category. It must remain at $0 or more. Anything less than $0 puts you in a negative cash position (based on your budget).

Unless you find additional aid or reduce other expenses, you will run out of money before your academic year is over.

That takes us back to our earlier discussion about "fixed" and "variable" financial aid and expenses.

Since most federal aid programs and scholarships are fixed, you are not likely going to find any additional aid from these sources.

Likewise, most tuition, room and board, books and fees are fixed expenses. You won't be able to reduce these expenses.

You will need to look at "variable" financial aid resources and "variable" expense items to bring your cash position back to positive:

  1. You can increase aid by:

  2. You may decrease some of your variable expenses such as food, entertainment, transportation or other

college budget step 7

What if You Run Short

If you find that cash is running low, you have the option of applying for Private Student Loans to help fill the gap.

You can borrow up to $40,000 each academic year 1 and defer repayments until after you graduate. 2

You can get the money in as little as 5 business day.

click for information about this aid source


Legal Information:

1 Undergraduate and graduate borrowers may borrow annually up to the lesser of the estimated annual cost of attendance or $30,000 ($40,000 for certain schools where the cost of attendance has been determined to exceed $30,000). Borrowers in Continuing Education programs may borrow up to $30,000. Subject to credit approval.

2 Undergraduates may defer repayment until six months after graduation or ceasing to be enrolled at least half-time. Immediate and interest only repayment options are also available. Graduate repayment is automatically deferred. Continuing education borrowers begin repayment the earlier of a) 180 days after the student graduates or earns a certificate; b) 180 days after the student ceases to be enrolled; or c) two years after the date of the loan disbursement. K-12 loans are immediate repayment loans.


About Private Student Loans

Private student loans are a great supplement to financing college. When other aid options fall short, students can use private student loans to make up the difference between the cost of education and financial aid received. You can borrow up to $40,000 or more per year with a private student loan to pay tuition, books, supplies, transportation and even a computer. With a private student loan, you will make no payments until after you graduate.

There are plenty of lenders out there who are more than happy to lend you the money. Incentives and ad displays promising you all the money you need without having to pay anything until after graduation is one way that lenders lure borrowers. This sounds enticing, but are you certain that you understand the long-term costs using a private student loan? See our article at our aid center on understanding the true costs of private student loans.

The lender for the SayStudent Private Student Loan program is RBS Citizens, N.A., Member FDIC and Equal Opportunity Lender. RBS Citizens, N.A. may sell your student loan to a third party. RBS Citizens, N.A. will only sell your student loan if the third party agrees to honor all of RBS Citizens, N.A.'s promises to you, including all promised benefits that you will receive or might become eligible for during the loan repayment period.