Managing Finances

How can I help my student set a budget for college?

As a college parent, it’s important to review and plan for unexpected college expenses. Here are a few ideas to budget effectively.

First, find a budgeting tool. You can use something like a low-tech spreadsheet or sign up for an online program like Mint has online budgeting tools and is FREE! It is my personal favorite.

Once you’ve found an effective financial management tool, make estimate your expenses 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.

The most important part of budgeting is to be realistic. Don’t set yourself up for failure by under or overestimating expenses. Diligently track and assess your expenses at least weekly. If you are off track in one area reassess the other categories and see if there are areas where you can cut back.

Next, be proactive!

  • Make sure to always hunt for new scholarship opportunities.
  • Encourage your student to check in frequently with your university’s financial aid office.
  • Fill out your FAFSA on time! 

To read more, please visit “What I Wish I’d Known About My College Budget” from

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