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    College Budgeting: How To Cut Down Unnecessary Spending

    January 13, 2016 Amanda Cross 9 min read
    Note: This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more details. Thanks for supporting the brands that make The Happy Arkansan possible!

    College budgeting is hard. Take this from the girl who had her first bank account in college, and went into the negative a little too much. I didn't know how to best manage my money in college, but now I am somewhat more successful at it and I want to give you some tips, tricks, and ideas on cutting out the unnecessary expenses in college. We all have our issues with money, but no matter how late in the collegiate game you are, it's never too late to start working on becoming more financially savvy.

    College Budgeting: How To Cut Down Unnecessary Spending | Are you spending too much in college? Check out this post on how to curb your spending in college so you can budget better and stop going in the negative.

    College Budgeting: Have A Realistic Budget

    The first step to setting yourself up for success is using a realistic budget. It's hard to stick to a budget that just isn't realistic for your spending patterns. Don't over budget just to pat yourself on the back when you go under your budget, and don't over budget so you can spend more money.

    Budget The Necessities First

    What is important and life or death? Housing, car repairs, food (but not necessarily eating out), education supplies, and other bills. These should be the top priority when it comes to budgeting. Make sure you know all the details so you can budget effectively for these things.

    Don't Forget Saving

    Saving is so important, even in college. There are tons of tools that you can use to save. Some people set up their savings so that a portion of their checks or so much money is put into savings each week. Talk with your bank about options for savings like that.

    Don't connect your savings to your checking if you can help it. I know this all to well, you are running low on funds so you skim a bit off your savings because it's there and you are broke. There is no point in saving if you can't keep it there.

    Savings Accounts Are Pretty Whack

    Most bank savings accounts are pretty horrible. If you really want to save and have the cash, spring from something like a CD (your money is extra-secure there because you can't get it out early without a penalty.) The APR on a CD is usually much higher than it is on a savings account.

    Budget The Wants

    Life needs a little bit of fun, that is for sure. Don't forget to realistically budget your wants like shopping, movies, etc.


    Using the app Mint can really help you out in this department. Using Mint to see where most of your money is going can help you see where you are spending too much.

    Use this app to help you craft your budget, and then realistically lower how much you are spending on certain things. Don't say I spent $300 on food basically every month and next month I am going to spend $150. That won't work. Instead, set a goal on where you hope your food budget will be and slowly lower the budget each month. Your budget can and should be a work in progress.

    College Budgeting: Choose A Flexible Meal Plan

    This is something that I have learned over the years (and especially during my Freshman year of college.) Always choose the most flexible meal plan. I could have saved so much money if instead of being cheap and going for the cheaper meal plan, I went more expensive and got the most flexible meal plan.

    Your cafeteria may seem leaps and bounds better than the cafeteria at your high school, but even a college cafeteria will get boring eventually. During my freshman year, I lived right across the street from the Student Center and the cafeteria was further away. My meal plan only allowed me to eat in the Cafeteria, but guess where I was most often spending money on food I didn't have? If you guessed the cafeteria, you'd be dead wrong. The Student Center was convenient. It was right between where I lived and my classes. Going to the cafeteria was quite honestly a nuisance and on a side of campus I hardly ever trekked unless I knew I had someone to eat with.

    I should have chosen the meal plan that allowed me to eat meals in the student center as well and that is something I regret about my freshman year of college. It's strange regretting something food-related, but food is expensive, and I could have used that money to buy monograms and movie tickets. This is something I try to tell everyone who is going to college, especially those who are living on campus. You never know how much money you spend on food, until you are forced to spend money on food.

    College Budgeting: Use Cash & Set A Limit On Big Weekends

    We are in a perpetual state of card swiping. It is so easy to swipe our debit cards and spend tons of money that we could be using elsewhere. I know my credit card number, expiration date, and CVC number mostly by heart at this point and I can punch it in on my computer without hesitation. Many sites on my computer already have my credit card information stored away for maximum convenience. Debit and credit cards are easy, cash, on the other hand, is not.

    If you have a big weekend coming up like a game day, a weekend away from college with your friends, or what have you, follow this advice.

    Set A Realistic Budget

    First and foremost setting a realistic budget for the weekend is key. You don't want to force yourself to live off an amount that just isn't feasible.

    Figure Out The Necessities For The Weeknd

    How much do you need to spend on lodging, gas money, things to eat, etc? Like before, these are the things you definitely need to plan for first and foremost. When going away for the weekend you have to make sure that you can afford the necessities before you splurge on the wants.

    Figure Out The Wants Of The Weekend

    What do you want to do during the weekend? Do you want to see a movie, go shopping, see a play? Plan your weekend, this cuts down the possibility of spontaneity, but sometimes you just need to be more aware of your plans.

    Withdraw That Set Amount Of Cash

    This is your cash for the trip, this is all you have to your name for this event. Spending cash takes a lot more guts than swiping a debit card. If you are forced to take out your wallet, count to the number given to you, and give your money to a cashier, you will most likely think before you spend. Counting cash is so much harder than swiping your credit card, and honestly, it's just much easier to balance cash versus your card.

    Take Your Card With You, But Only Use It For Dire Emergencies

    At first, I was going to suggest leaving your card behind, but honestly, that would just be irresponsible behavior. Put your card in an out of sight place (such as the glove compartment) and only touch the card for emergencies. If you budgeted correctly there should be no use of your card during the weekend.

    College Budgeting: Get A Part-Time Job Or Side Hustle

    Okay, a fun way to add money to your college budget is by getting a part-time job or side-hustle. There are so many opportunities for part-time jobs on campus/things you can do right now. Here are some of my favorite ideas:

    Get An On-Campus Job

    During my time at the University of Central Arkansas, I had a few on-campus jobs and I loved them. They paid pretty well and they were obviously close to where I lived because I always lived pretty close to campus while I went to college at UCA. There are so many on-campus job options from work-study programs to working in the cafeteria. I really suggest trying to get an on-campus job first before you try to get any other type of job as they are more likely to work around your busy student schedule. There are so many job opportunities on campus so look and ask around.

    Get An Off-Campus Job

    Do this with a lot of caution, and try to work in a place where other students are also working. It is important that your boss respect that you are a student first. You don't want a job to cause more stress than necessary while in college! There are probably tons of jobs in your college town that hire college students, all you have to do is ask around and see who is hiring. I love sites like Indeed for anything job search-related.


    I am not going to lie to you as side hustles/jobs go, blogging is pretty difficult. It's not easy to figure out what you want to talk about, find your audience, and then stick with it. It can be pretty lonely, but it is also such a rewarding opportunity and it can be monetized effectively. It takes a lot of time and sticking to your guts, but with the right support system, it is definitely easy to get in the right direction. With blogging, there are so many avenues of monetization that open up such as selling your products and hosting events. The possibilities are literally endless.

    READ NEXT:  50+ Side Hustles & Part-Time Jobs For College Students (Part One)

    College Budgeting: Find New Ways To Enjoy Luxury Items

    When you are in college even daily Starbucks coffee is a luxury item. I am all about finding ways to enjoy the things we love so much.

    Instead Of Buying Coffee Each Day Buy A Coffee Maker

    The initial investment may be big, but eventually, you will earn that back in the savings from not buying coffee every day. A search on Pinterest or other sites will usually give you some cool ideas on how to recreate your favorite Starbucks drinks at home. There are also a lot of Starbucks brews that they have for sale that you could use to get more bang for your buck versus spending $6 on a cup of coffee.

    Buy Clothes You Need On Sale Or At Consignment Shops/Thrifting

    You can find some seriously cute (and unique clothes) by buying things secondhand or at least on sale. A lot of amazing clothes from companies that produce great quality clothes end up at these shops and sometimes for amazing prices. You never know what you will find by checking out some of these stores.

    Borrow Clothes

    Do you need a dress for one event? Instead of buying a dress that you'll wear once and store in the back of your closet, ask a friend to borrow a dress. This will save you so much money and closet space. Why splurge on something you will only wear once.

    Invest In Quality

    Let's be honest, no one wants to spend a ton of money on any item. I hate purchasing shoes or clothes over a certain price, but there is a reason behind doing so. Yes, those simple $5 shoes are perfect if you expect to gain a whole foot size in the next three months, but normally it's not that great. They break down easy, and before you know it, you have holes in your soles. It's fun to spend $100 on 20 items, but sometimes you have gotta make investments in the future by spending $100 on 1 item.

    Buy Frozen Pizza/Make Your Own Pizza Instead Of Delivery

    I tried this last semester, and while it didn't work for me as much, I am sure it would work for a lot of people. I couldn't give up my favorite Papa Johns (although I severely limited how many times I got Papa J last semester.)

    When I was in college, I used sites like RetailMeNot to save money on pizza deliveries all the time.

    Make An Account Specifically For Delivery Services

    This seems strange, but trust me! Delivery services are like kryptonite to any college student. By making a separate email account for your company newsletters you can cut down on spending just for convenience.

    Another option would be to use UnRoll.Me and just add all of your delivery newsletters to the list if you are on an email service like Gmail. This way it's all in one email and if you are curious you can open it, but you don't have a million emails about food in your email every single day.

    READ NEXT:  The Broke Millennial's Guide To Self-Care


    Okay, so I am a talker y'all. I wrote a few extra ideas on cutting down spending in college and I'd love for you to read them. This freebie is listed on my freebies page right now and all you have to do to get access is sign up for my email list below:

    I hope that you enjoyed today's post all about helping you stretch your dollars and budget effectively. What are your tips for stretching your dollar and setting up a great budget in college?

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  • Annaliese January 13, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    Definitely important things to keep in mind for college students!! I have worked part time as a babysitter since my sophomore year. I didn’t work freshman year and just focused on school, and while I had very high grades and had a lot of time for friends, I realized that I was going through money very quickly and also didn’t have money for everything that I wanted to do! College is a time of realizing that if you want money for things, you need to budget out your time so that you can balance having a job with school and social commitments. 🙂 And the extra income from blogging always helps too!

    xoxo A

  • kenzie negron January 13, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    love this! It’s tough to keep track of money/budget in college becuase of everything that is always going on but this post is super helpful!x, kenz

  • Amy January 13, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    Ugh, I definitely needed this. I am working on trying to save money this year because TBH last year I got a little out of hand… haha. Also, I feel ya on the whole pizza thing. I cannot live without PJs and thank goodness for coupon codes! Thanks for sharing these tips girl!!
    Amy |

  • Kayla January 13, 2016 at 6:02 pm

    Such a useful post, even for those (like me) who have already graduated and are settling into their careers. Making ends meet in D.C. Is often challenging but a few new tips never hurt!
    Kayla | Keynotes from Kay

  • Sara January 13, 2016 at 6:18 pm

    Love this! I’ve only recently started making a year-round income (thanks, blogging!) but budgeting was totally new to me. I’m glad you’re sharing this advice with other college students!

  • Audrey January 13, 2016 at 7:30 pm

    oh my goodness Iloved reading this. mostly because I STRUGGLE with my money in college. I need to work on budgeting and not spending so much money on off campus food, and of course all my wants.

  • Amanda January 14, 2016 at 5:04 am

    These are great tips! I struggled so much my freshen year with money and paying my rent on time. Thankfully I am over that hump and don’t have that problem anymore.
    Amanda ||

  • Ashley January 14, 2016 at 6:04 am

    These are great tips! I definitely struggled in college with budgeting and wished someone had been there to advise me!
    xo Ashley

  • Bella B (xoxoBella) January 14, 2016 at 7:00 am

    Great tips! It is the weekend that kills me. I have friends that don’t seem to have a budget and it is hard to say no to going out sometimes!

  • Lindsay Emow January 14, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    Great tips! I remember always trying to cut out my wants and it wasn’t logical! Gotta budget them in 🙂
    Sugar & Something

  • Kayleigh January 14, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    This is such a great post and is something I’ll definitely use since it’s my senior year!

  • Sierra Bailey January 15, 2016 at 5:15 am

    This is such an awesome post, and I completely agree with what you have to say! Budgeting cash is so much easier than swiping a card, and part time jobs are fantastic. I’m a full-time undergrad, and I work 15-20 hours a week for my university. It’s a pretty nice way to stay (mostly) financially independent.

  • Savannah January 16, 2016 at 4:00 pm

    For a trip I always try to withdraw cash so transactions aren’t just an easy swipe. These budgeting tips are great!

  • Elana Gross January 16, 2016 at 10:58 pm

    I love Mint. It’s so helpful because it makes it easy to keep track of my purchases.

  • Imbre July 8, 2016 at 4:33 am

    You’re blog was very helpful. Thank you and I hope your blogging career goes a long way!

  • Leave a Reply

    About Amanda

    Hey Y’all!
    My name is Amanda Cross, and I am the blogger behind The Happy Arkansan. I am a blogger, freelance writer, and podcaster. When I am not creating content for any of my content online, I can usually be found baking, watching YouTube, or napping. I love helping millennials and young adults navigate the mess that is adult life. Keep reading for my thoughts and experiences.

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