College Connect: Watching the Little Things Can Be Essential to College Student Budgeting

Posted By Crystal Beasley

By Casey Williams

Managing the often routine expenses can pay off for college students on a budget.

Ann Woodyard, an assistant professor of financial planning, housing and consumer economics at the University of Georgia, said simply saving money on gas can make a difference.   She said students can look for ways to cut down on their gas usage by using public transportation or using something other than a car. Students can also shave gas expenses over the long run by getting the best possible gas mileage out of their car. This means making sure it’s routinely serviced. Another tip is to track the fluctuations in gas prices and keep the tank full when prices are good.

For Woodyard, keeping an eye on recurring expenses is part of an overall budgeting process students should embrace.  She described two approaches to consider: Students can do it from the top down where they figure how much income they have and start budgeting by how it will be spent.  The reverse process is a bottom up approach where students figure out how much they spend and then match that against available sources of money.

She said a key thing to do is to take a look at expenses such as rent, utilities, and the things a student doesn’t have a have a choice about once they are committed to those expenses.  Make sure those items are covered first before looking into a clothing budget, she said. Students must also consider how much they spend on food – at home and away from home. Woodyard said the items that are fixed each month are one’s dedicated expenses, but other items such eating out should be treated as discretionary expenses.

Dara Deckert, a recent graduate who earned degrees in international affairs and Spanish at UGA, attended school part-time so she could work to pay for college and other life expenses.  Even with her part-time status, she had to dip into savings to pay for bills and tuition, but budgeting allowed her to have savings to fall back on when they were needed.

“I’ve done a lot of trial and error and seem to have finally figured it out,” said Deckert, who relies on mint.com as a tool help her track and balance her budget.

Deckert said mint.com follows how much money she makes each month, tracks her expenses and their categories and provides graphs that tell her how close she is to spending her allotted portion for each category.  She said the tool alerts her when she is about to overspend in a certain area and then she can decide whether or not it’s worth going over budget for that spending.

Woodyard said tools such as mint.com can provide convenience when they are linked to a student’s bank account. She also recommended for students to check with their financial institutions to see if they would prefer their banks’ budget tracking tools.

Casey Williams is a student at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia

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