How to Budget as a Part-Time College Student

Quick Answer

Since part-time college students are more likely to have typical life expenses alongside tuition, book and university fees, their budget must account for these additional expenses. You can create a budget by:

  1. Adding up your income.
  2. Tracking your spending.
  3. Subtracting your expenses from your income.
  4. Choosing a budgeting method.
  5. Making realistic adjustments and goals.

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Budgeting for college may look different for part-time college students who must cover the typical student expenses plus general living costs. That's because part-time college students are often older—their average age is just over 27―and they likely juggle the responsibilities of family, work and education.

To budget as a part-time college student, you'll add up all your education and non-education expenses, compare your expenses with your income, choose a budgeting method and adjust your spending and goals if necessary. Here's what to think about when you're making a budget as a part-time college student.

Costs for Part-Time College Students

For many part-time college students, budgeting includes the day-to-day costs of living independently plus the costs associated with getting an education.

Costs part-time students must budget for include:

  • Tuition: As a part-time student, you may be able to pay per credit, which can make for smaller tuition bills each semester. The average college credit costs $390 at a public, four-year university for an in-state student.
  • Books and other school supplies: In 2020, the average cost of new, hardcover textbooks was $84 and $38 for ebooks. Students may be able to reduce costs by renting textbooks, purchasing used copies or borrowing textbooks from the school library.
  • Rent: Part-time students may not qualify for room and board on college campuses, so it's important to factor in rent if you are not living with family. If rent increases are common in your area, it may be a good idea to budget a little extra on rent costs.
  • Health care: If you're devoting time to your studies, you may not be working a full-time job that offers health insurance. If you are younger than 26, you may qualify to stay on your parents' insurance. If not, your school may offer a student plan or you can purchase insurance through the marketplace in your state. Depending on your income, you may also qualify for your state's Medicaid program while in school.
  • Food: Part-time students may be able to get on a campus meal plan. Whether this makes financial sense will depend on factors such as how often you can eat on campus. Meal plans average $563 per month.
  • Transportation & parking: Getting to and from campus can include costs such as bus passes, gas, campus parking passes and car maintenance.
  • Family costs: Many part-time college students have families of their own. Budgeting for familial costs may include child care, children's clothes and school supplies and more.
  • Entertainment: Part of the college experience is having fun. Budgeting some money to catch a movie on campus with friends or a late-night study latte with a project group can help you enjoy the college experience.

5 Steps to Building a Part-Time College Budget

Budgets can help you plan for expenses and manage cash flow as bills come in and payments go out. When factoring in the extra educational costs as a part-time college student, you may need to reduce expenses in other categories.

Follow these five steps to design a budget:

  1. Add up your income. Count all sources of income, from work to grants to family help, to determine your total monthly income.
  2. Track your spending. Spend some time tracking your spending. Note all of your regular, necessary expenses; surprise costs; and impulse buys throughout the month. You can use a budgeting app to see where your money goes and also monitor your spending once you create a budget.
  3. Subtract your expenses from your income. Once you know your monthly income and approximate spending, subtract your expenses from your income. If you have money left over, your budget is off to a good start. But if you're in the negative, you may need to adjust your budget to increase your income and lessen your spending.
  4. Choose a budgeting method. There are many different budgeting methods you can use to create a spending plan. A couple to consider are the 50/30/20 plan, where you allocate 50% of your earnings to needs, 30% to wants and 20% to savings, and the envelope system, where you separate cash into envelopes dedicated to specific spending categories.
  5. Make realistic adjustments and goals. Once you have a budget outlined, keep realistic goals. Balance things like weekend fun and grocery budgets so that you have enough for everything you want and need. Take any needed steps that will make you more likely to stick to your budget.

As a part-time college student, your budget categories may fluctuate depending on whether or not classes are in session. You could adjust your budget categories to allot for more non-educational spending during summer break, for example—or use breaks to save up money for the coming semester.

How to Pay for College as a Part-Time Student

If during the budgeting process you realize you may be coming up short on funds, make sure to consider all the possible ways you could secure money to help while attending college part time. Many financial aid offices, as well as private organizations, may be able to offer you both financial assistance and advice. You may even be able to attend college for free in certain cases.

Ways to pay for college as a part-time student include:

Having a part-time—or even full-time—job is common for part-time students. Some 81% of part-time students work while taking their classes. While juggling work and your education can be challenging, it can also help you avoid taking on debt or allow you to finish school owing less.

Be sure to apply for FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, to maximize your potential for scholarships, grants and other student aid.

Part-Time College, Full-Time Budget

Developing a budget as a part-time college student is a skill you can carry long past graduation. Once you find a budgeting system that works for you, sticking with it as you move into the workforce can help you reach your financial goals after you leave the classroom behind.