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Budgeting is the key to controlling your money and yet, most college student don’t do it. Budgeting allows you to manage your finances and set yourself up for a successful financial future. Review the steps and tips in creating a budget and download the printable budget to get started.



1. Review your financial goals to determine how money should be spent in your spending.

One of the crucial steps in creating a budget is creating goals. Those who are financially successful did not get there my accident- they spent time formulating and writing down their goals.
When establishing a budget, you should have short, intermediate, and long term goals. The length of time associated with short, intermediate, and long term is up to you! For some, long term might be next semester, while for others it might be 5 years from now. We suggest you use the SMART Goals criteria. SMART stands for Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic and Time Bound. In order for your goals to be met, they should include each part of the SMART criteria.
2. Track your spending to identify how you are spending your money now.

When tracking your spending, there are four main things to keep in mind: how much you spend, how you pay, when you buy, and what you spend money on. Tracking your spending can have two huge benefits:

  • It can help you identify how you are currently spending your money. Until you know what you are spending your money on, it can be difficult to make an accurate budget. By tracking your spending for a month, you will gain a better understanding of your financial habits.

  • Especially if budgeting is new to you, it is important once your budget is set, to continue tracking your spending to make sure you stay on track.

3. Revisit and revise your budget.

Don’t hesitate to review and modify your budget. There is nothing wrong with making changes, but only make a few small changes at a time.

Download a budget sheet to get started!


1. Budgets are a necessary evil
They're the only practical way to get a grip on your spending - and to make sure your money is being used the way you want it to be used.  If you have never successfully used a budget, don’t set yourself up for failure by creating unreasonably high goals when you start. For instance, a person who normally spends a hundred dollars a month on coffee should not suddenly set their budget to only allow for five dollars a month. A rule like that is almost certain to be broken.
2. Know why you budget
Motivation is an important key to successful budgeting. If you are simply keeping a budget because a friend said it was “a good idea”, you are not likely to keep budgeting for long. Before you start budgeting, answer the important question: “Why?” Depending on your situation, the answer could be to pay off debt, save for retirement, or get more control over your money.
3. Use software to save grief
If you use a personal-finance program such as Quicken, Microsoft Money, or an online program, the built-in budget-making tools can create your budget for you and help keep you on track. As a college student, you are much more likely to update or check a budget that is computer based over a paper version.
4. Budget your financial aid for the academic year
Many students receive financial aid refunds after their direct costs to UNI have been paid. This refund should not be thought of as “fun money.” It is intended to help students purchase textbook, class supplies, and cover any remaining living expenses and should be thought of as income for the semester.
5. Understand wants vs. needs
An item is probably a "want" if it is possible to delay buying an item, substitute something less expensive, or to use something you already own. Wants are discretionary expenses — things you might want but don’t need to live. Almost every experience and activity, from going out with friends to shopping is a want. On the other hand, if the purchase is for something necessary to survive, like food or rent, it’s likely a “need.” Before you buy something, ask yourself, “Do I need this item, or do I just want it?” You may be surprised at how many things are actually “wants.”
6. Watch the little things
Two dollars for candy, three for a snack, and you will soon be faced with a budget collapse. Beware of the little expenses that are not included in your budget!
7. Do not budget more than 90% of income
Aim to spend no more than 90% of your income. That way, you'll have the other 10% left to save for your big-picture items. These big-picture items can be short term (like textbooks) or long term (like saving for a car after graduation).
8. Watch out for cash leakage
If withdrawals from the ATM machine evaporate from your pocket without apparent explanation, it's time to keep better records. In general, if you find yourself returning to the ATM more than once a week or so, you need to examine where that cash is going.
9. Don't count on windfalls
When projecting the amount of money you can live on, don't include dollars that you can't be sure you'll receive, such as year-end bonuses, tax refunds or investment gains.
10. Revisit your budget
Don’t hesitate to review and modify your budget. There is nothing wrong with making changes, but only make a few small changes at a time.