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Your Semester Spending Plan

Now let's look at the figures from your two-week expense record, Tracking My Spending. Were you surprised? Did money disappear? If so, you're not alone; many others don't have a good understanding of their spend habits. Cash for small purchases is the hardest to track and control. Here's how you can identify and put a stop to those habits as early as possible.

Use the Semester Spending Plan, a worksheet you can fill-in online or download and print out. The worksheet will help you set up spending guidelines for the semester, based on your income and expenses.

Fill out the income portion at the top, including all financial aid, employment, or other sources. Total only the money you are guaranteed for that term. Planning on money that doesn't come could put you in a tough financial situation early on that will escalate as the year continues. Also, remember to use your take home pay (net income), not income before taxes (gross income) for a more accurate idea of how much money you can count on.

To estimate your expenses for each semester, go first to the undergraduate cost of attendance budgets for current tuition and fees, housing and food, books, transportation and personal cost figures. Remember to adjust for your personal situation. Use the totals from your Tracking My Spending worksheet to come up with realistic figures for your circumstances.

For example, if you own your own car, gas and parking could cost more than $124 per month. If you live off-campus, you may have more costs than a student living in a dorm or at home with parents. Fill in entertainment, clothing, extra food costs, any debt payments, child care, and any others you have identified. The hardest expense to estimate is entertainment. One month, you go out frequently and other months, you do nothing. If you know one month will be busier than another, have a rollover plan so you are covered for the extra expense later.

Complete the spending plan by subtracting your total expenses from your total income. Where do you stand? Your income should be more than your expenses. If not, you have two choices: either cut expenses or increase income. Cutting expenses may be the easiest choice.