How to be realistic when making a personal budget

Mackenzie Smith, Columnist

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






Just like how New Year’s resolutions bring out the best intentions in people, creating a budget for the new school year can bring out the forward-thinking investor in you. While commendable, is it realistic? 

Make a budget using the ideas and tools we’ve mentioned in a previous issue and ask yourself the questions below to see if you need to make some changes. In short, a balanced budget accounts for all income and expenses with a positive or net zero balance at the end, and a good one makes a plan for savings.

It’s all fine and dandy to say that you will get a job this semester and make an extra $100 a month, but until you have that job offer in hand, it’s better to be a little more stingy in the meantime. You might get a position that pays more, which means you can add more to your savings and late-night ice cream runs. But, be cautious about the competition among incoming students for jobs, as you might find yourself without a job for longer than you thought. Either way, it’s best to be prepared because you can revise your budget later when you know for what your circumstances are.

Being prepared for things to go wrong is extremely important. That six-year-old hand-me-down laptop will probably get you through another year, but you should probably set aside some emergency money in case it dies during finals week. We covered that with more information here, and the best budgets account for tomorrow’s expenses as well as today’s. Set your goal, create a time-line to hold yourself accountable and continually add funds in incremental amounts until you have reached your goal. Making sure you have enough money allocated to your car to cover gas and oil changes helps you know that those once-in-a-while expenses won’t catch you unaware. Remember, your emergency fund is there to fund only real emergencies, not your midnight chocolate cravings.

A budget isn’t any good unless you follow it, and if your blood is mostly caffeine and you don’t make space for your Keurig, things can get dicey. Falling apart in one aspect of the budget can throw everything else out of balance, and before you know it, you’re three pizza boxes deep into your next month’s rent. College finance plans don’t always leave a lot of room for error, so find a method that helps you follow through with your plans. Some good recommendations are to write everything down, use cash if swiping a card is too easy for you and keep your budget updated to be as relevant to your situation as possible.

Remember that budgets are personalized things, so what works for you might not work for your roommate, and vice versa. Learning how to create a realistic budget and sticking to it is one of the best things you can do for your future. If you want to know more about how to manage your finances you can visit CashCourse.org. It’s free!