A few months ago, I wrote a piece called How do you live on a college student budget?  That discussion explains which expenses are included in a college’s Cost of Attendance formula, and which expenses are not.

Do review and bookmark it, as it is important information to understand this time of year as students file for financial aid and scholarships, wait for award letters, and make decisions about where they will attend classes during the 2013-14 academic year.

Now here is another point that needs to be made, and it is on the crazy schedule of income and expenses for college students:

Most personal finance budget systems are based on the premise that living expenses are fairly equal on a month to month basis, and that only a few details such as Christmas gifts, vacations and unexpected car repairs pop up once a year or on rare occasions.

But college students, whether they are residential or commuter students, will notice the biggest amount of incoming funds at the start of each semester as scholarships, grants and loans are processed to their accounts.

This corresponds with the spike in expenses that will happen at that time. Tuition, textbooks, lab fees, along with parking passes or bus passes if required, are typically paid by the semester. Those who live on campus also pay their housing and cafeteria bills by the semester.

Therefore, there is a flurry of money in and money out in a matter of just two or three weeks.

How do you get by for the rest of the semester?

Make a list of what expenses you need to account for before the semester’s end. Use my household budget category list as a guide. Most of those details don’t apply to residential students, but some do. Commuter and returning adult students, on the other hand, have a lot of expenses that are handled on a line item basis rather than included in an on-campus room and board bill.

Now write down the money you expect to receive after the semester starts, along with the dates involved. For example, during my college years, one of my part-time jobs resulted in a paycheck once a month. Two other jobs I had at different times involved paychecks that showed up once a week.

What expenses do those paychecks have to cover? For example, there was one semester in which I knew I didn’t put enough money on my cafeteria card and I would need to use some of my mid-semester paychecks toward a meal plan add-on.

The last detail to consider is whether there remains any money in your student account or your bank account after the semester startup expenses are accounted for. That is money that you want to spread throughout the academic term for expenses that really are handled on a frequent or cash basis.

Here are two such examples:

  • When I was a college freshman in fall 1984, I had $500 in my savings account after the startup expenses were settled. I split up the money, $100 a month, throughout the semester. That was my “just for fun” money, to handle expenses such as college swag, activity fees, haircuts, pizza and ice cream. But once the designated amount was gone for the month, it was gone.
  • When my daughter did her overseas semester in spring 2010, she parked some of her money in a checking account here in the states and gave me her debit card and power of attorney paperwork. Then she gave me a list of expected dates and amounts as to when she wanted money transfers to her overseas student account, which the study abroad agency could arrange for us. My daughter’s goal was to make sure that she had spending money throughout her time overseas for expenses she didn’t yet know about. This arrangement worked out very well.
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