For students thinking about their college plans or a workforce training program, worrying about how to pay for it is likely one of your top concerns. It often comes down to juggling a variety of priorities when it comes to money.
The Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC) offers a wide range of services and counseling about financial aid and planning for your education to help you navigate the decisions you need to make to choose and pay for college and training. For day-to-day money planning, it also really helps to up your game when it comes to financial literacy. But often commonplace skills like personal budgeting end up on the backburner in the face of classes and work. Here’s how to keep budgeting in the mix of all you need to do.
Budgeting 101 Made Easy
Despite the fact that only 41% of Americans use a budgeting system, learning how to create a simple budget will help you with proper money management and may serve as a foundation for academic success. When you control your personal finances and welcome the benefits of budgeting, you can handle challenges more adeptly and stay on track toward achieving your financial goals.
Accounting.com offers helpful tips on setting up a budget and finding the tools to simplify the process:
1. Track Your Spending
Assess your current financial spending: Good budgeting begins with accurate tracking of your current spending habits. Start by obtaining copies of your financial statements for the last few months from your financial institution. Examine them closely and put together a list for an average month, including everything on which you spend money, along with the amount you spent for each item listed.
Categorize expenses: Once you’ve assessed your current spending, move on to your expenses. Sort each element of your budget into essential or nonessential categories. The essentials category includes fixed expenses such as housing costs, insurance, student loan payments, tuition, and car payments, as well as necessary variable expenses such as groceries, transportation, and utilities. Also account for essential education expenses such as Internet access, textbooks, exam fees, and class materials.
Do the math: Next, add together the figures you calculated for all your essential expenditures and subtract this total from your monthly income. The resulting figure represents your discretionary income.
Create your budget: To establish the basis for your budget, examine your discretionary income figure. This amount represents the amount of money remaining for nonessentials. If your result shows more expenses than income, you know your current monthly spending exceeds your intake. Many student loan recipients find themselves in this situation. Nonetheless, you can free up money by cutting costs, even for essentials. Small expenditures add up quickly, but frugal habits such as meal planning and finding cheaper textbooks or phone plans can go a long way toward achieving a balanced budget.
Financial planners frequently recommend a 50/20/30 rule for budgeting: Ideally, you should allocate 50% of your income to essentials, 20% to savings, and 30% to nonessentials. This guideline can serve as a general framework, but keep in mind that few people follow these proportions exactly, especially during college. Find what works best for your situation and make a budget to help you identify your priorities. Spending less in one area allows you to spend more elsewhere or save toward future goals.
2. Maintain Your Budget
Proper budget maintenance can help reduce your long-term financial burden and the amount you need to borrow for financial aid. Review your student budget regularly, especially when your circumstances change. Comparing actual figures to the budgeted figures shows you where you need to make adjustments. Unexpected expenses come up for everyone, and part of proper budgeting involves learning to project expenditures as you go. To ensure your budget remains useful and reliable, keep the information current. Accuracy helps you understand where your money goes and keeps you on track toward your goals.
Finally, the experts at accounting.com urge you to update your budget at regular intervals, especially if you discover major discrepancies between projected and actual spending. Many financial planners recommend budget reviews every few months.
3. Use Budgeting Tools
Mint: a popular, free web-based personal finance app that offers personalized money management services. Includes automatic downloading of transactions, alerts for unusual charges, a tool to create budgets, investment tracking, setting and managing goals such as paying off credit cards, and checking and monitoring credit scores.
Wally: a free personal finance app for iOS and Android. Offers budgeting tools to help you track spending, compare income and expenses, and set financial goals. Features easy receipt scanning, customizable fields for notes and categories, and basic budget review analysis by spending category and time frame.
YNAB: a personal finance app with an emphasis on budgeting to help you pay down debts and build a financial cushion. Features at-a-glance displays of any amount overspent or carried forth unspent from the previous month, and students with proof of enrollment pay no monthly fee.
Whatever system works for you, the key is to get started, and stay with it. You can check out the full article at https://www.accounting.com/resources/creating-a-student-budget/.
For information from VSAC on college and career planning and help with financial aid, see these events and resources. You can also email us firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at 800-642-3177.
This story is produced by Vermont Student Assistance Corp., created by the Vermont Legislature in 1965 as a public nonprofit agency, to advocate for Vermont students and their families to ensure that they achieve their education goals. Our vision is to create opportunities for all Vermont students, but particularly for those—of any age—who believe that the doors to higher education are closed to them. We begin by helping families save for education with Vermont’s state-sponsored 529 savings program. To help Vermonters plan and pay for college or career training, our counselors work with students in nearly every Vermont middle school and high school, and again as adults. Our grant and scholarship programs attract national recognition, and our loan programs and loan forgiveness programs are saving Vermont families thousands of dollars in interest. Visit vsac.org to learn more.
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