Updated: March 23, 2022
By Jesse Ketterman

FS-1194  |  March 2022

Budgeting 101 for College Students

Budgeting for college students presents unique challenges due to variations of income and expense. It also may be the first time you need to manage money. A traditional approach toward budgeting may not be effective when you need to plan for large expenses such as tuition or books. Combining a cash flow budget with a yearlong monthly financial plan allows planning for the variations of income and expenses that college students may experience.

This factsheet will introduce college students to basic terminology and provide resources for developing and maintaining a budget.

Income - Expenses = Surplus or Deficit

A surplus means you have money left over after paying your expenses. When you have deficit, you spent more money than you brought in. You may have a surplus one week and a deficit the next so you need to plan weekly, monthly, and yearly. It allows you to plan for fluctuations that occur along the way.

There are Many Approaches to Budgeting

Typically, budgeting is done on a monthly basis even if income and expenses are relatively fixed. Fixed means they remain the same month to month, though this is often not the case for college students. For instance, you might work full-time in the summer and go to part time when the semester starts. You may decide not to work at all during the semester. Variations in income have implications for how you budget your money.

The same occurs with expenses. At the beginning of each semester, for instance, you have large expenses for tuition and related expenses. In addition to maintaining a traditional monthly budget, a cash flow budget allows you to track your income and spending on a weekly basis and roll over any surplus to the following week. Before developing your budget, let’s explain a little more about income and expenses.

Income Comes in Many Forms

Some students have paying jobs such as a full-time job in the summer, a part-time job during the semester, or even a work-study job during the school year. Some students receive their income from a parent or guardian, while others rely on a student loan refund check for income. Remember that the student loan refund check will need to be paid back later. Students also apply for scholarships or other government benefits to support them during college.

Just like Income, Expenses may be Fixed or Variable

Your cell phone bill is a fixed monthly payment. You may pay your car insurance every six months. Whatever your situation, you need to be aware of what expenses you have and how often you need to pay them. For college students, this also includes tuition, books, and fees.

Table 1. To start the budgeting process, list your income sources for the year
Sources of Income Amount Received How Often? (Weekly,
Monthly, Yearly, etc.)
Date Expected
Scholarships (Directly Received)      
Student Loan Refund      
Parent / Guardian      
Government Benefits      


Table 2. Track Your Expenses
Expenses How much? How often? (Weekly, Monthly, Yearly, etc.) Due Date
Car insurance      
Car payments      
Car maintenance      
Cell phone      
Credit card(s)      
Dining out      
Donations / Charities      
Health care      
Housing / Rent      
Loan payments      
Parking / transportation      
Personal care      
School supplies      
Tuition / Room & board      

Create a Yearly Budget

Now that you have the information for developing a budget, you can create a 12-month financial plan. College students need a 12-month budget due to the high variable expenses and/or income. Appendix A is a yearly budget spreadsheet that you can use to develop a budget.

Download Appendix A spreadsheet (Excel)
Download Appendix A spreadsheet (PDF) 

A Cash Flow Budget Will Help You Manage Money Throughout the Semester

Now that you know your expenses for the year, you need to plan how you will spend your money over a 15-week semester. Appendix B is a 15-week Weekly Cash Flow Budget spreadsheet that you can use to manage money throughout the semester. Each week begins with a starting balance and a list of any income and expenses expected for the week. Your ending weekly balance becomes your beginning balance the following week. Using a cash flow approach and some financial discipline will help you stretch your money over the entire semester.

Download Appendix B spreadsheet (Excel)
Download Appendix B spreadsheet (PDF) 


This publication, Budgeting 101 for College Students (FS-1194), is a part of a collection produced by the University of Maryland Extension within the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The information presented has met UME peer-review standards, including internal and external technical review. For help accessing this or any UME publication contact: itaccessibility@umd.edu

For more information on this and other topics, visit the University of Maryland Extension website at extension.umd.edu

University programs, activities, and facilities are available to all without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, marital status, age, national origin, political affiliation, physical or mental disability, religion, protected veteran status, genetic information, personal appearance, or any other legally protected class.

Download Publication

Supporting Documents File Formats
  PDF Excel
Appendix A PDF Excel
Appendix B PDF Excel