For College Students

Typical College Student Budget

Here’s what the average college student expenses look like and how to track them.


They say college is a taste of the real world. It’s also a taste of financial responsibility.

Many college kids even find themselves in for the shock of their lives when it finally dawns on them that having to buy laundry detergent and groceries over tacos and thrift store trinkets are actually a more essential component to their survival, and that by spending their money wisely, they’ll “survive” a whole lot easier.

Check out one of our articles on Budgeting For College Students to learn how much it pays to budget while in college!

Here, we will focus our budget-ready attention on:

  • Why having a college budget is important
  • Average expenses for college students by category
  • How to budget in college (and some tips to save money)
  • Sample budget for college students

Let’s get budgeting!

Why Having a College Budget is Important

Most college students feel an initial bout of confusion when they reluctantly go through their receipts after maxing out their credit card for the month, followed by regret. 

The essential expenses become unidentifiable when they end up mixing and mingling with the expenses deemed less important. This shows the importance of implementing a college budget into your college life to distinguish between primary and secondary expenses and know when it is simply time to draw the line with spending. When this bravely responsible action is taken, only then should you begin to treat yo self.

Here are some reasons why college budgeting is important:

  1. Avoid unnecessary expenses – When you can identify the expenses that must be paid, such as tuition, food, and your phone bill, you will never run the risk of falling short on any of these necessities.
  2. Meet short and long-term goals – Setting goals as a college student allows you to do things like save money for next semester’s books or to pay off your student loans within five years. Whatever your college goals, a budget will help you achieve them.
  3. Equip yourself with valuable life skills – The ability to maintain a budget will pay off greatly for you now and once you’ve graduated from college and set off to start a career, buy a house, and prepare for a comfortable retirement.
  4. Avoid debt/build credit – When all of the necessary expenses are taken care of, using that little bit of extra cash each month to add towards paying off debt or to continually pay your credit card on time is a move worth making!
  5. Fostering a healthy, financial future – Starting your journey to financial freedom is as easy as creating a college budget that will stick with you and be helpful to you for life!

Average Expenses for College Students

Knowing the amount of spending money a college student needs would depend on a few factors: tuition, fees, location of students’ college, food, activities, and what one even would consider “spending money.”

In the last 20 years, the cost of college tuition has tripled, causing the average rate of expenses to go up significantly alongside it. The total estimated cost of living per year for students, including food, housing, clothing, phone plan, miscellaneous, etc., is around $14,435.

Read on to get a closer look at the spending habits of college students:

College students have a significant amount of spending power in the U.S. that derives mainly from working part-time jobs that allow them to provide for their own needs and wants. But a smaller percentage of college students depend solely on their parents’ allowance. 

Regardless of the source of their income, their spending habits consist of educational and discretionary spending.

Here are some categories for where college kids are most likely to spend their money and the average cost of their spending per year:

  • Clothing and personal care – $750-$900
  • Furnishings – $300-$1,200 (includes students living on campus and in their own apartment)
  • Entertainment – $1,300
  • Electronics – $200 – $1000
  • Food/Snacks (includes eating out, groceries, and possible campus meal plan) – $4,500-$7,500
  • Gas/car insurance/public transportation – $1,000-$5,000
  • Cell phone – $200 – $800
  • Activities such as soccer club, a dance class, or gym membership – $750-$1,400
  • Textbooks and school supplies – $1,200-$1,300

The amount spent per college student will vary significantly based on personal preferences, geographical location, school, and personal level of involvement in activities. This means that the total expense amount will differ from student to student. For example, some students participate in costly activities on and off campus throughout the year, while others do not. When creating your own budget worksheet, consider your personal spending habits and financial responsibilities.

How to Budget in College (And Some Tips to Save Money)

Before setting a budget for yourself, you want to look at your total income. Your total income as a college student will most likely be from one or more of these different sources:

  • Financial contributions from family members and friends.
  • Financial aid to use specifically toward tuition and fees. This includes assistance through scholarships, grants, and student loans.
  • Your payout from a seasonal or part-time job or federal work-study job and how many hours you work per week.

Next, you need to evaluate whether or not you can afford to cover the bill for your fixed and variable expenses. 

You also should:

  1. Prioritize between Fixed and Variable Expenses – Take a good look at which expenses are necessary and at the top of your list of priorities that may need your immediate attention or will be constant from month to month. You can ask yourself whether you can do without a particular expense and if so, cross it off your list to reduce your overall expense load. 
  2. Assess your Previous Expenses/History of Spending – Check out your bank statements and review your spending and earnings over the past month or more. This will help you to point out the amount of money you go through in a certain period, and what it is being spent on. If you notice that your expenses exceed your income, take a closer look at which expenses can be dropped out of the equation.
  3. Do the Math – Start by taking note of the expenses that accumulate over a month. Then, add the cost of all those expenses together. Now, subtract the total expenses you get from your monthly income. If the final number comes out to be negative, that means you’re spending more money than you have. If the number comes out positive, you have extra money to spend or put aside towards your emergency fund or savings. 

After taking these crucial steps, you can start to budget in real time! 

Here are some bonus tips on saving money while in college!:

  • Buy discounted textbooks – Save on the cost of school-related materials,
  • Get on a family cellular plan – This can help you to pay less for your phone bill per month if the plan is shared amongst family members,
  • Use all available campus amenities – Get familiar with your campus’ offerings. Some of the amenities that can be used for free are printing services, rec center activities, movie showings, and events that give out free food.
  • Look for on-campus work – If you don’t already have a job, explore the campus work options that could reduce transportation costs.
  • Resist the urge to spend with friends – It may be tempting to spend alongside friends who boast of the latest trinket or Instagram purchase, but you can do without it. Put that money towards savings, and you’ll be happy you did.
  • Use student I.D. for discounts – Every college student recognizes the struggle of not being able to go to a movie or event center because they may end up spending their last. A student discount is motivation enough to seek out opportunities that can cut the spending costs low enough to consider making it a once-in-a-while treat.
  • Continually monitor your spending – Developing the habit of checking your bank balances and payments frequently will naturally help to avoid overspending. Budgeting apps can also help.

Sample Budget for College Students

Microsoft Office offers a Monthly College Budget Worksheet, which you can find below. You can even start using this worksheet now by clicking here

This Budget worksheet gives you a monthly breakdown of your income (shown on the left column) and your expenses (shown on the right). In each column, the categories of income sources are listed, as well as fixed and variable expenses combined. The cash flow timeline shows income fluctuation from month to month for an entire year. Once your income and expenses are established, you can begin to discover your monthly cash flow. 

At this point, it is your call to how you’d like to use the money left after all expenses are paid. We’d always encourage and challenge you to allocate an amount to your emergency fund and savings. Feel free to use this as a basis to create your own College Budget sheet.

About the Author

Christina Ezeagwuna

Christina is a professional writer with 7+ years in entrepreneurship, opening a rental baby furniture business in 2016 that she still runs today. Christina is a mom of three budding, financially savvy kids and works as a content manager for the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement.

Last updated on: April 4, 2024