Creating and sticking to a spending and savings plan might not be your idea of fun, but it can help you control your spending so you CAN have fun without getting into money trouble. If you don't have much money coming in, don't worry—following a realistic plan CAN still allow you to have some small luxuries, even if it is an occasional soda or movie.

  1. The first step towards creating a budget is determining all of your recurring monthly expenses, such as rent, tuition, groceries, phone bill, student loan payment, car payment, gas, insurance, necessary clothes, and other needs. You may wish to check out the MDHE's spending and savings plan worksheet to help get you started.
  2. Next total your monthly income including wages from work (not including overtime) and any financial aid funds left over for living expenses after paying your tuition and fees. Calculate the amount of these financial aid funds you should use each month by dividing the amount by the number of months in your semester or term.
  3. Then, take your overall expenses total and subtract expenses from your income. There may not be anything left over, or it could be a negative number. Based on the results, examine each item in your budget and decide if you could cut back in any areas. Which line items are truly NEEDS and which are actually only the things you WANT? Additionally, if you are paying checking account or credit card fees, learn how to effectively take charge of your finances while to eliminate these expenses.

Congratulations, you've created a budget and taken the first step to getting control of your money.

Now for the tough part—

  1. Find out if your actual spending matches your plan. Tracking expenses and comparing them to your plan will allow you to gain control over your monthly spending, allowing you to keep student loan debt, as well as other types of debt, at a reasonable level or non-existent, especially while you are in college.

There are a number of ways to track your spending, such as writing down purchases in a checkbook ledger or using a spreadsheet. If you are comfortable letting technology do some of the work for you, you can use an application like www.mint.com or www.buxfer.com, which can help you track and analyze your spending habits.

If you follow these steps, you should be able to gain control over your money, save money for emergencies, and get out of debt quickly.