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Making a Budget: How to Get Started

A budget is a plan for how you spend and save your money. It’s hard to create a budget – and even harder to stick to it. But if you’re serious about making sure your expenses are covered and that you’re not spending more than you have, it’s really the only way to do it.

Luckily, setting up a budget is really pretty easy. Here’s how to set up a simple budget in just three steps.

Step #1 — Identify sources of income

The first step in creating a budget is to identify the sources of income you have to work with every month – money from parents, savings from your summer job, current part-time jobs, scholarships, student loans and so on.

If you have a lump sum that you need to make last for a semester or an entire school year, simply divide the amount available to you by the number of months you need to make it last.

Step #2 — Track your expenses for a month

Next, identify the expenses you’re responsible for each month, plus typical spending money. To help you do this, keep track of every penny you spend for a month, right down to the loose change you spend on pizza and vending machines.


Expenses to consider include:

  • School — Tuition, books/supplies and computer
  • Living expenses — Rent, utilities and cable
  • Food — Groceries, school meal plan, dining out and snacks
  • Transportation — Car payments, insurance, fuel and public transportation
  • Medical — Insurance and prescriptions
  • Personal — Entertainment, cell, clothing and laundry
  • Other — Credit cards, regular savings, emergency funds

Step #3 — Put together your budget

Once you’ve tracked your expenses for a month, add them up, compare the total to your income and start to put together a realistic budget. If you find that your expenses are higher than your income, you’ll need to find ways to cut back. For example, you could eat out less, buy used books and clothing instead of new, take public transportation instead of paying for a car and so on.

And if you decide you want to have more money for a certain category — for example, entertainment or saving for a special trip — find ways to trim costs in other areas. It may not be easy, but it’s the one true way you can meet your financial goals while staying within your budget.

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