Making Your Fall Semester Budget

By Lauren Sharkey

Okay Seawolves, it’s time to get serious!  You’ve just dropped a ton of your summer cash on textbooks so it’s time to take a look at your monthly expenses and income and figure out how you’re going to make things work.  It’s a long time till Thanksgiving, and an even longer time until Winter Break, so whatever you’ve got left in your checking or savings account has got to last.  Let’s do this…

How to Make a Budget in 8 Easy Steps

STEP ONE: Ask yourself when this budget is for.  Before you even begin thinking about creating a budget, the first thing you need to do is set a time frame.  It’s best to set a budget for one month at a time.  As you get more comfortable with budgeting, you will be able to develop future spending plans for longer lengths of time such as the spring semester or the entire financial year.

STEP TWO: Determine how much you make vs. how much you spend.  When making a budget plan, it is also important to determine how much you earn and hot much you spend.  Once you calculate your monthly income, it will be easier to delegate what money goes where which brings us to our next step – calculating your monthly expenses.

STEP THREE: Now that you have your income and expenses figured out, it’s time to look at your expenses more closely in order to determine your monthly expenses.  Now, please note there are three types of expenses – fixed, variable, and discretionary expenses.  Fixed expenses are necessary expenses whose cost does not typically change.  Examples of fixed expenses include rent, insurance, cell phone bill, etc.  Variable expenses, on the other hand, are those costs that occur on a regular basis, but whose price changes.  Groceries, gas, and electricity are examples of variable expenses.


Discretionary expenses are where most of us have trouble.  Discretionary expenses are those expenditures which are non-essential to daily life.  The triple grande, six pump, whole milk vanilla latte with whipped cream from Starbucks, One Direction’s new iTunes single, and Beats by Dr. Dre headphones are a few discretionary expenses.

Your monthly expenses only include a combination of fixed expenses (rent, car insurance, etc.) and variable expenses (groceries, gas, etc.).  When calculating your variable expenses, try to come up with an average amount you spend on the essentials as opposed to your morning coffee from Starbucks or the lunch you buy in the SAC.

STEP FOUR: Categorize your expenses.  Divide your expenses into categories such as bills, food, gas, etc.  It’s best to start with general categories before creating smaller, more specific categories.  Establishing categories allows you to see exactly where your money is going and how much.

STEP FIVE: Once you’ve listed your monthly expenses, compare it with your monthly income.  You’re in a good place if your monthly expenses are less than your monthly income.  If the opposite is true, you need not worry – this simply means that you will have to make some changes.  (See Adjusting Your Budget).  Consider what you’re spending and what you can afford to cut.  These decisions are never easy, but will help you in the long run.

No matter what situation you find yourself in, it’s always best to look at your budget each month and determine if there’s anywhere you can save some money.  For example, if you’re spending $85 on groceries, take a look at your receipt to see what you’re buying.  Do you really need Gevalia coffee or will Folgers do?  Also take note of where you’re shopping – Whole Foods, while healthy, can also be expensive.  Perhaps try Trader Joe’s, local farmer’s markets, or Waldbaum’s instead.

You should aim to spend no more than 90% of your monthly income – this way, the other 10% can be put towards your savings.

STEP SIX: Be Honest!  Many of us tend to rationalize our spending by convincing ourselves that luxury items are necessities.  You don’t need Starbucks in the morning, you simply want Starbucks in the morning.  You don’t have to have Beats by Dre. Headphones when you can go to the Seawolves Market and purchase headphones for 20x less.  While luxuries are a nice treat, you must live within your means and that sometimes means going without. 

STEP SEVEN: Stick to it!  A budget, much like a diet, means nothing if you don’t stick to it.  Living on a budget can be hard at first, and it takes some adjusting.  However, if you stick to your budget, you will be able to keep better track of your money, make sound decisions when it comes to spending, and save enough money to give you financial security down the line.

STEP EIGHT: Revisit your budget on a regular basis.  Reviewing your budget is just as important as creating a budget.  Checking on your budget lets you know you’re on track.  Similarly, it helps to compare last month’s budget with this month’s budget to see where you can improve.



2 responses to “Making Your Fall Semester Budget

  1. Pingback: Why You Need a Fall Semester Budget? | The Savvy Student @ SBU·

  2. Pingback: Financial Friday: How to Make a Budget – Stony Brook Southampton·

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