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Student Budgeting, a Piece of (Spread)Sheet

by Annique Bolliger

You are a student and want to become more responsible and master student budgeting skills, but you’re not sure how to keep an overview of your finances? During her studies, Annique was in the same boat, but she soon created a budget strategy with Microsoft Excel that kept her on top of things.

When I moved out from home in my second year of varsity, it was quite an adjustment (I mean, I moved a whole two blocks away from my parents’ house). But really, it was an adjustment, specifically in terms of finances. I had always been financially responsible and organised, but my expenses clearly increased when I moved out, because I now started to cover expenses like groceries, electricity, Internet, etc. My parents still supported me with rent, medical aid, and university fees (which was the largest chunk of my costs), but yeah… I had to up my game. And by game, I mean my budget strategy. Specifically my student budgeting strategy.

Creating a Student Budget Strategy

There I sat with a heap of crumpled up receipts that had accumulated, or rather seemingly appeared in my handbag and purse over the previous weeks, and that chaos did not go down well with me. I knew that I needed to find a system that would let me see exactly how much I spent each month and exactly on what, as well as how much I earned.

First, I considered writing down my expenses in a little notebook, but that didn’t seem neat and structured enough for my practical personality. So I turned to Microsoft Excel and played around with different categories in a spreadsheet until I came up with a list for my expenses and income (which I still use today). I’d take each slip/ receipt and type the amount into the correct category.

Some people argue that this is superfluous, because you can just pay with your debit card and see what you spent when you log into your online banking. Well, firstly, not everyone pays with a card all the time, and sometimes the description in your online statement history is nothing short of a mystery…

Here is the list I used for my expenses spreadsheet:

  • Food (grocery store items, not from eating out)
  • Health (anything covering the health and hygiene aspects: medication, toiletries, sunscreen, etc.)
  • Fitness (sports hobbies and gear, gym membership, etc.)
  • Flat (the things you need for wherever you are staying: electricity, internet, dishwashing liquid, etc.)
  • Petrol and Airtime
  • Luxuries (anything you don’t theoretically ‘need.’ E.g. eating out, coffee dates, birthday presents, shopping sprees, partying, etc.)
  • Other Stuff (basically all the stuff that comes up – and something always comes up – for example, you need to pay the plumber, or the washing machine packs up, or you need new tires…yup, definitely the least popular category to spend on)

For income, the list kept changing, as I took on different student jobs, etc. But it consisted mainly of:

  • tutoring (private, as well through an agency)
  • waitressing
  • babysitting
  • other (once-off jobs, or the odd envelope from Mom or Granny…)

Once I calculated the grand total of my expenses and income for the month, I also noted down how much I was able to save. For example, if I spent a total of R 5000, and my income came to R 5300, I’d make a note that I had saved R300. On the other hand, if my income only came to R 4700, I’d note down that I made a loss of R300, which also meant that I needed to be sparing in the following month.

This system allowed me to:

  • Know where my money goes
  • Whether I was able to finance myself each month without dipping into my savings pocket
  • Feel in charge of my finances

Click here to view an example of an expenses spreadsheet!

Time and Diligence

One thing I can tell you about this strategy is – it works, but you need to be incredibly diligent. It’s most definitely only for people who need and like a hard-core structure for their budgeting.

The best way to go about it is to take 30 minutes at the end of every week, sort through your slips (which you of course never lose or misplace, ehem), and then type the amounts into the right categories. If you leave everything for the end of the month, it defies this strategy, because then you are back to square one with your heap of slips, along with a big thought cloud hovering over your head, flashing a neon sign that reads “SO OVER THIS.”

If you are still inexperienced with budgeting, then give this strategy a try. Budgeting in itself is a pretty tedious task, I agree, but it has to be done if you want to be on top of things.  It’s a good thing to be in control of your finances. Rather figure this thing out while you are young and earn/spend on a smaller scale.

EduConnect 2cents

There is an awesome app called HomeBudget – it follows the same principle as the Excel strategy. You create categories and type in the amounts you spent/earnt, and it creates a colourful pie chart that shows you exactly how much you spent and earnt in each category. It’s also a great way to manage your annual spendings and income. The bad news is: the app costs about R260. The good news is: there is also a free version called HomeBudget Lite which is awesome if you want to try it out!

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