Office of Enrollment Management


Budget Basics


Budgeting creates the groundwork for every financial plan. Budgeting is a repeated process where you create a plan to spend your money. You are telling your money where it should go. This spending plan gives you choices. You decide where your money goes when you budget.

Call it a budget or a spending plan, you need to create one each month. This should be done before any money flows in or out for the month. A budget is a plan of action for achieving your goals because you are being intentional with your money.


Smart Spending: Budgeting 101

Making a spending plan can be intimidating. Before you begin to create a budget, you must accept that it will not be perfect. It may change from month to month. This allows grace as mistakes are made.

A budget includes all incoming money (income) and outgoing money (expenses). When creating your budget you will need to consider all income and expenses, prioritize by needs and wants, and made lifestyle decisions.

Step 1: Count income.

Count all streams of income. This is the money that is coming into your household. Paychecks, grants, scholarships, alimony, public assistance (SNAP) and child support are a few forms of income that should be included. Use net pay when you account for income. Net pay is the amount you are paid after taxes.

Step 2: Identify expenses.

Create a list of expenses. Consider this the money that flows out of your household each month. There will be fixed and variable expenses. Begin to categorize your expenses and do not forget that there will be surprise expenses. These may include school pictures, new tires for the car, and sick appointments.

Fixed expenses will be those that will remain the same each month.

Ex: rent, mortgage, transportation, basic utilities, insurance, minimum loan payments

Variable expenses will be different from month to month. These may be necessary, such as electricity, but the amount needed will change each month. Check to see if your utility company offers budget billing. 

Explore Nerdwallet's Budget Planner and Mapping Your Future's budget calculator.

Step 3: Create the Budget.

How you spend your money is your choice. There are several types of budget styles; however, try a zero-based budget. This plan means that you give a purpose to every dollar.

Income – Expenses = Zero

Some of your expenses are needs. Needs are what you must have to live. Think about the basics such as adequate housing, utilities, transportation, and food.

There is a difference between a need and a want. Housing itself is a need, but the type of housing may be a want. As a student, adequate and safe housing is a need. Living alone or right next to campus is considered a want. Your budget may dictate that you cannot afford the housing you prefer but can afford housing that is a bit further from campus or shared housing to reduce costs.

Remember it is your spending plan so these are your choices.

Sample Zero Based Budget Excel



Adjust money to each category until your budget equals zero. Remember, that fixed expenses are ones that cannot be changed. Do you need all your fixed expenses? Netflix is a fixed expense but is it a want or a need? You may need to give up a want to make your zero-based budget work.

Experiment with different budget forms. Here are a few:

Dave Ramsey's Quick Start Budget (Paper form)

AAMC: Budgeting Worksheet for Students and Residents

Mint Budget App: Managing Money, made Simple

Goodbudget App: Budget with a why

YNAB App: You Need a Budget


*Use the form that works best for you.

Step 4: Track spending.

 A budget is a living document that ebbs and flows with life changes. Track your spending and adjust based on your habits and goals created.

For example, $5 at a coffee shop each day may not seem like much, but that means each week you are spending $25 for coffee. Do you want to spend $100 monthly, $1200 yearly on coffee? If not, you may cut your coffee runs down to one time a week. Budgeting creates choice.

Tracking spending is just like accounting for all your income. Keep a list of all of expenditures. At the end of the day or week, look through your accounts and categorize your spending. Compare your spending with your estimated amount. Adjust your budget based on your spending.

Each month you will be able to adjust your budget to align with your goals. Remember budgeting will enable you to have the paycheck stretch to the end of the month, move away from paycheck to paycheck, and know exactly where every dollar is spent.

Budgeting empowers you to make informed choices.

Need more help? Connect with us.