A Spending Plan

Money is tight for most students. Still, using a spending plan can help keep you on your educational path. The basic purpose of the spending plan is to list what you expect to earn and what you expect to spend. By comparing your income with your expenses, you'll know if you're on track financially.

In the beginning, it's best to start by making a plan for a month at a time. Later on, you can make a plan that covers a school quarter, semester, or school year. Also in the beginning, it's a good idea to note how much you actually earned and spent. This will help you develop future spending plans that are more accurate.


There are four steps to making a spending plan:

  1. Identify your income.
  2. List your expenses.
  3. Compare income and expenses.
  4. Make changes.

Download these worksheets and develop a personalized spending plan.

Identify Income

Sources Expected Per Month Actual Per Month
Financial aid (grants, loans, scholarships) paid directly to you $ _________________ $ _________________
Financial help from family $ _________________ $ _________________
After-tax wages from a job or work-study program $ _________________ $ _________________
Child support $ _________________ $ _________________
Public assistance $ _________________ $ _________________
Food stamps $ _________________ $ _________________
Interest on a savings account $ _________________ $ _________________
Tax refunds $ _________________ $ _________________
Gifts $ _________________ $ _________________
Other $ _________________ $ _________________
Other $ _________________ $ _________________
Other $ _________________ $ _________________
Total Monthly Income $ _________________ $ _________________

If you receive a financial aid check that must last all quarter, divide the amount of the check by the number of months it is expected to cover. If the financial aid is paid directly to the college, don't list it as income here unless you receive a portion of it as a refund after your college costs have been paid.

List Expenses

Sources Expected Per Month Actual Per Month
Tuition or fees you are responsible for paying $ _________________ $ _________________
Books you pay for $ _________________ $ _________________
Supplies for school (laptop, software, etc.) $ _________________ $ _________________
Transportation (parking fees, gasoline, car payment, bus fare, etc.) $ _________________ $ _________________
Transportation (trips home and so on) $ _________________ $ _________________
Insurance (car, health) $ _________________ $ _________________
Dorm and meal plans $ _________________ $ _________________
Rent or mortgage $ _________________ $ _________________
Heat, water, electricity $ _________________ $ _________________
Telephone or cell phone $ _________________ $ _________________
Groceries $ _________________ $ _________________
Child care or child support $ _________________ $ _________________
Snacks/meals eaten out $ _________________ $ _________________
Clothes $ _________________ $ _________________
Credit cards and other loans $ _________________ $ _________________
Personal (toiletries, etc.) $ _________________ $ _________________
Entertainment (movies, dates, concerts) $ _________________ $ _________________
Savings contributions $ _________________ $ _________________
Other_______________________ $ _________________ $ _________________
Other_______________________ $ _________________ $ _________________
Other_______________________ $ _________________ $ _________________
Total Monthly Income $ _________________ $ _________________

Not all of the expenses listed here may apply to you. Also, some expenses occur once per quarter or semester. In that case, divide the amount of the expense by the number of months between payments. Enter that amount on the worksheet.

If you don't know how much you spend on items such as drive-through meals, magazines, or DVDs, try recording these costs. Enter every purchase into a small notebook, computer, or similar device for a month or two. After that time, you'll have a better idea of where your money goes. You'll probably also be shocked at how these seemingly small purchases add up.

Compare Income and Expenses

Enter down your total monthly income $ _________________
Enter down your total monthly expenses $ _________________
Subtract expenses from income and list amount here $ _________________

Make Changes

Was there money left over at the end of the month? Congratulations! You can save this money for future college expenses.

But, maybe, your expenses were more than your income. Then what? Too often our money takes a detour from our goals and we have to take steps to get back on track. Getting back on track usually means two things: cutting back expenses or increasing income (or both). Now that you know your expenses, it will be easier to cut them. Since your primary focus should be on college, try cutting expenses first. Remember, if you don't spend it, you don't have to earn it.

My ideas for cutting back on my spending:  

If you're not already working, see if you can participate in a work-study program. A good first step is to talk to someone in your college's financial aid office. Other job ideas include the following:

  • Ask your professors if they know about summer jobs or internships in your field of study.
  • Ask family or friends to let you know if they hear about jobs you can do for extra income. If possible, try to find businesses that are used to accommodating a student's schedule.
  • Keep an eye out for help-wanted signs in windows or on store bulletin boards.
  • Explore online job listings.
  • Visit job placement centers run by your school, state, county, or city.
My ideas for increasing my income: