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Guide to Surviving on a Student Budget


For many college students, campus life is the first time you really have to create a budget for yourself. There are a lot of factors regarding income to consider, including the amount you want to take in student loans, the decision to get a part-time job, or the allowance you may get from your parents. You first have to figure out from where and how much you’ll be getting in incoming money.

Next, you want to plan your expenses around your income. Your expenses may include rent, utilities, food, textbooks, entertainment and essentials like personal care items and clothing.

No guide to surviving on a student budget could be complete without teaching you how to make your first budget, so that’s where we begin. Then, we show you how to save money on food, entertainment and essentials. Finally, we have listed some resources to apply for scholarships that can increase your available cash flow and/or help reduce your student loans.

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Budget Making

  • How to Make a Budget: How are you supposed to survive on a budget if you can’t make one? Learn how to make a budget and what to include using this article.
  • Student Budget Calculator: Input your numbers and this automated calculator will tell you the outcome of your projected expenses and income.
  • College Budgeting 101: This author points out the truism that making a budget is only half the battle. You also need to learn how to stick to it!
  • Tips for Living on a College Student Budget: This New York Times article goes over some practicable tips to help you stay within your budget, including taking advantage of student discounts.
  • 9 Best Budgeting Apps for College Students: There’s an app for that! Learn more about apps that can help you make, manage and stay within your budget.
  • Save when you Spend: Programs like UPromise give a percentage of money to your college fund for every qualifying purchase you and your participating family and friends make.
  • 10 Ways Students Can Make Money: These are tips to make money without having a regular job. Consider things like walking pets, collecting refundable recyclable materials, and selling items on eBay.

Save on the Essentials

  • 5 Budget Laptops for College Students: Let’s face it. The modern student needs a good laptop to be successful. Check out this list of models that can fit your tight budget.
  • 40+ Stores with Student Discounts: Whether you need new shoes, electronics, or dorm supplies, this list will give you everything you need to know to save on items from top retailers.
  • How to Save on Textbooks: Your campus textbook store may be far more expensive than other textbook outlets. This guide helps you think outside the box to find cheaper textbooks.
  • Furnish your dorm on a budget: Heed these tips and you’ll have the coolest dorm on your floor for much less than everyone else will be spending.
  • Top 9 Appliances for College Students: Read about what appliances you might need in your dorm apartment. Focus especially on multi-tasking, room-saving appliances that can help you save money in the long run.
  • 7 Ways to Save Energy in Your College Apartment: If you have your own apartment, you’ll find out quickly how high your energy bill can get. Use these tips to reduce your monthly expenses.
  • Gift Card Granny: Buy discounted gift cards for less than face value. This is a great way to save money at your favorite stores.

Eating on a Budget

  • Gluten Free on a College Student Budget: Find recipes for a gluten free diet that can be accomplished on a tight student budget. The author also lists inexpensive finds to look for at your grocery store.
  • Healthy Eating on a College Budget: The University of Michigan Health System produced this PDF with advice for how to eat healthy on limited funds, especially by using careful meal planning.
  • A College Guide to Eating Healthy: This NerdFitness article offers great advice about how to focus on eating healthy foods in college without wearing yourself out.
  • College Recipes: This website has hundreds of recipes that are cheap and easy to make from homemade pizza to microwave meals — and all the things you can do with hot dogs.


  • A Week of Entertainment: This student’s article details how to have fun on only $10 per week, including finding cheaper movie theatres and using your student ID for discounts.
  • Cheap Entertainment Ideas: From Cengage, the publisher of many student textbooks, learn how to take advantage of your student union, online discounts and rush ticket sales.
  • Fit Entertainment into Your College Budget: Between museums, sporting events, concerts, shopping and more, you’re sure to find tips here on how to save money doing what you love.
  • 13 Ways to Have Fun on a Budget: Here are some really unique tips. After reading this, you’ll be checking your receipts and cereal box for special offers on the regular.

Seek Scholarships

  • FastWeb: Search and apply for all kinds of scholarships. Even just a few hundred bucks per semester can help you budget more for living expenses.
  • MeritAid: This resource is especially good if you’re still applying to different colleges. It matches you up with colleges that could cost you the least based on scholarship resources.
  • Compare Top 5 Scholarship Searches: Learn more from U.S. News and World Report on which scholarship search engines are the most helpful in saving you money.
  • Coca-Cola Scholarship: If you think you have what it takes, apply for the prestigious Coca-Cola Scholarship for students who show academic excellence, leadership skills and dedication to service.
  • $2,400 Student Scholarship: First place will win a $1,000 scholarship, 2nd place will win a $500 scholarship, and 3rd/4th/5th place will win an annual unlimited subscription to Educator’s 100+ course catalog ($300 value each).

In general, there are a few simple tips that can save you a lot of money.

  • Make sure to flash your student ID card everywhere you go. You’d be surprised how many places have student discounts, like the movie theatre, your favorite clothing store and even electronics stores like Apple.
  • Buy second-hand when possible. You don’t need everything brand new. Consider purchasing furniture, appliances and décor from students who are graduating. They’ll unload their dorm or apartment contents for good prices. This includes buying used textbooks!
  • Shop online. Some online retailers allow you to register with your .edu e-mail address for extra savings. Amazon.com, in particular, has a great savings programs for students.
  • Split costs with a roommate. Make sure to establish how you want to divvy up living expenses if you have a roommate. Setting ground rules will keep you from being the one who buys everyone groceries every week.

When it comes to income, there are a lot of options to increase your cash flow.

  • Find a part-time job on or near campus. You could work as a barista, textbook sales associate, or front desk assistant. Even just 10 hours a week will help out.
  • Offer your help as a tutor. If you’re an upperclassmen, consider helping freshmen by tutoring them in your specialty or area of expertise
  • Complete surveys. There are some websites that let you complete surveys for money. Even if you only do a few a week, that could be extra money for eating out.
  • Participate in university studies. Your university may offer compensation for participating in their studies. The studies may include drug trials or simple sociological experiments.

About Johnson Hur

After having graduated with a degree in Finance and working for a Fortune 500 company for several years, Johnson decided to follow his passion by embarking on a path to the digital world. He has over 8 years of experience with large companies setting marketing strategy.

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