Managing Money: How to Make the Most Out of a College Budget

Aubrey Brumblow

Living on a college budget can be constricting and stressful. However, it is far from impossible.

Katie Pham, assistant professor of finance at Georgia Southern University, shared tips for how you can make the most out of a college budget and manage your money like a pro–and have some room to treat yourself. 


Most of these come down to one thing: forming good financial habits that will help you now and also in the future.

Spend less, not more.

Saving up a little bit everyday can add up in big ways.

“So, every day, say, for example, you can just go out and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to come into the coffee shop every day and get a cup of coffee,’ right?” Pham said. “That will cost you $5. And so, if you think about it, those everyday expenses might add up.”

She said that if there was anything in your everyday life that you feel is not a necessity, then you could cut down on expenses by finding a cheaper alternative for that thing. 

Pham continued this example to illustrate the point: $5 a day for a month, assuming the month has a total of 30 days, adds up to $50 per month on coffee. That $50 could be invested, adding to your savings.

Create and manage a budget.

Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize.

For example, Pham suggested prioritizing paying your tuition then buying required class materials, such as textbooks. This way, anything you spend money on later won’t impact your ability to attend class.

Pham compared financial planning to college planning. Just as you know what classes to take in order to graduate in a certain amount of years, you should know what kind of expenses you need to prioritize.

Utilize free services.

“So the university has a lot of resources for you, you know,” Pham said. “Computer labs, laptops. The library has a lot of stuff that you can use or check out and just loan for a temporary period of time. So make yourself, you know, familiar with what is available to you and how you can utilize that.”

She also included borrowing from family and friends who have tools or materials they no longer need as an option.


Save more, invest early.

Pham said that if you can invest early on, then you will have more funds for later. So, by the end of graduation, you might have a fund to reward yourself with a new car, for example.

“Just by saving a little bit, it adds up,” Pham said.

Pham added this was about creating a saving habit for yourself that would follow you into the future.

Gain basic financial literacy.

Pham strongly suggested taking the Business Finance course as one way to familiarize yourself with financial matters.

“And that would change the way you manage everything in your life and will kind of change your perspective about investing in savings,” Pham said.

Don’t overlook scholarships and on-campus jobs.

They can be great resources to reduce the debt you’re racking up as well as help you have extra money to spend per month.

Look at the big picture.

Pham said that people get into the habit of thinking that because they are making money now, why would they have to come back to the university? 

However, Pham said to not overlook the future by just focusing on getting more money right now. She suggested looking at the big picture and what you really want to do for the future, as everything you do adds up to your work ethic and works to sharpen your skills. 

Figure out how to manage your student debt.

Pham said that something she feels that students are not really paying enough attention to is their student loans. She suggested looking at your loans sometime between the second and third year of college.

Some questions to ask yourself include the following: Do you have any debt? Do you know how much you’re paying in student loans? How much balance is on there? Do you know how to repay what you owe and what kind of payment plan it is?

Pham said, by doing early research on your loans, you wouldn’t get slapped with an amount of, for example, $10,000 and get freaked out. Also, if you have a job once you graduate, then you would already know what to do with that paycheck to reduce debt.

While it may be difficult, it’s 100% possible to live well while on a college budget. In the end, the key is staying prepared for the future.