Every college student needs a budget. Especially if you are a broke college student. Sometimes there is barely enough money for pizza and beer, but somehow you manage to squeeze it all in. But there’s a better way. And it requires little to no effort from you. It’s almost as easy as our beginner investing tips. It’s a service that has been around for a little while but is gaining steam and it also has the ability to sync with your iPhone or Android device.
With over 4 million users, Mint.com is a great free budgeting tool. I’ve been using the service for a while now and I really like the features that it offers. But before I get into that, we need to build a budget.
There are two easy steps to building the best budget for you as a college student. The first thing to do is figure out how much you are spending and where you are spending it. The next step is to trim expenses where needed and plan your cash so you can meet your financial goals.
When you first sign up for Mint, you will be able to link your various financial accounts in the software. It’s a very easy process that took me all of 2 seconds. Once your accounts are linked, including checking, saving and investment accounts, you will be able to view your spending history. They even categorize your purchases so you can see how much you spend on eating out, gas, etc. I spend way too much on eating out but I’m a young adult with no kids to cook for, so I don’t mind.
There are quick charts and graphs that are perfect for visual people like me, and you will be able to quickly see your spending habits over time.
The next thing you will want to do is figure out what needs to stay. I like building a budget around the essentials first. I personally start with 10% tithes, 10% savings, rent, groceries, gas and bills. The rest is play money that I can use to invest, shop, or use to eat out. 🙂
Next you will want to grab a pencil and a piece of paper. Yes, paper. Start thinking about what kind of goals you have for your financial future. Is there a particular number or savings goal that you want to reach? Is there a trip or vacation that you want to take? The point of this exercise is not to write down the actual numbers it will take to achieve those goals, but to help you keep track of the goals. When you have finished writing them down, put them up where you will be able to see them everyday, either on your wall calendar or tacked right to your bedside table. These goals will become your motivation to stick to your budget.
Now that you have those goals, come back to Mint and start creating an easy budget so that you will have the numbers to go with those goals. Go to the Budgets tab. There are a few starter budgets already that are mostly for tracking spending in categories you create. Once you have the basics down, scroll down to create a new goal. This is where you can put all of the goals down that you just wrote with the numbers to match. If you have a goal of saving for a vacation that will cost 1500 bucks in the next year, you will be able to set that up as a goal and start budgeting savings towards that.
And to keep track of every day spending just log in to your Mint dashboard. Mint.com actually does the work for you and calculates your average spending in any category to help you create a budget very easily based on how you spend money. It will also show you what is left from spending that you have made this year.
Of course every transaction you make is not with a credit or debit card, even if you have one of the best cash back credit cards. You can easily add cash transactions right into Mint. A good way to keep up with these transactions is to keep a receipt and add them all at once at the end of the week.
How did you first build a budget? Are you a Mint user?