Freshman Boot Camp: Budgeting Your Financial Aid Refund

9 Aug

One of the mantras told to college students is to “Live within your means”. While it’s good advice to generally follow, it doesn’t get at how difficult it can be to do so while you’re in college. One of the biggest challenges college students face is that their incoming flow of cash tends to be extremely irregular.Budgeting your Refund.png

You might be sitting on a big pile of cash after your financial aid refund comes in, but if you don’t budget it correctly you’ll be broke before the semester ends. So in order to avoid eating exclusively ramen at the end of the semester you’ll want to come up with a strategy for taking care of your money!

As a student, you probably have three potential avenues to get an incoming cash-flow. They are your financial aid refund, a part-time job, and cash gifts for holidays and your birthday. Your parents might also throw something your way once in a while but no one wants to have to ask just because you weren’t keeping track.

Making a realistic budget can be tough but once you know your income it does get a little bit easier. So total up what you’ll get between your financial aid refund and what you’ll get from work. If you know for sure what you’ll get for gifts you can toss that in, but that’s not a for-sure thing.

Next, start by totaling up all of your projected expenses for each month. Aside from obvious things like rent, utilities, food, and other monthly bills you’ll need to include a projected number for having fun. If you know some times of the year like Grand Prix or Homecoming you’ll be spending extra, try to account for that by varying it up by month.

What’s important here is to make sure that your total income is higher than your total expenditures. If it’s not, there’s going to be a big problem.

Assuming the numbers add up, you’ll have a little bit of a strange result. You’ll have your monthly expenditures but your income will be a combination of paychecks and a one-time refund from your financial aid.

There’s actually a surprisingly simple way to be able to make this into a steady income flow without being tempted by the big number in your checking account.

This method is called using a Holding Account. Basically you take the lump sum of money and deposit it into a bank account and set up recurring transfers to your primary checking account on a monthly basis. This way between your income from work and the transfers you’ll be able to pay your monthly expenses without having the temptation to make a big impulse purchase.

If you want to de-automate it a bit, you could actually have them both as checking accounts and write a check from your holding account to yourself on a bi-weekly or monthly basis and deposit it into your other checking account.

This system is not fool-proof but it combines the ability to pay your bills and have some fun while also putting up a small barrier to the full sum to keep you from tapping out your semester’s funds on a whim.

Something to note: make sure that your holding account doesn’t have any fees related to minimum transactions or minimum balance if you can. It doesn’t make any sense to pay one bank to hold your money when there’s plenty of others that’ll do it for free.

If you find that your financial aid refund is going to be much more than you’ll need to meet your expenses and you’re taking loans, it’s worth looking into reducing what you borrow. Remember that not only do you have to pay back what you borrow, you’ll be accruing interest on most loans until the day they are paid off.

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