THE BLOG
09/21/2012 01:28 pm ET | Updated Nov 21, 2012

Budgeting Your First Year of College

Money -- all college students need it. And while you don't need huge amounts of extra cash in school, there never seems to be quite enough. After covering all of your major expenses, what you need basically amounts to pocket cash. The key is determining a suitable amount to last you throughout the school year.

There's always going to be movies you want to see, clothes you want to buy and the latest music that you simply must have. So where does that money come from? Many student look to their parents to pay their student loans, but there are other options that can help you pay for your other expenses. At some point you may find yourself low on cash, but that is okay because your college years is one of the only times in your life that you can be short of funds but still enjoy yourself.

This is where budgeting comes in -- recognizing the difference between what you need (food, shelter, clothing, school supplies, etc.) and what you want.

Below we've listed some of the top items -- both personal and educational -- that you may want to include in your budget for your first year at college.

Educational Expenses. These are pretty much must-haves for any college student and the cost can really add up. Be sure to shop for sales and bargains on these items as well as considering buying used items. Utilize online auctions for finding great deals.

• Computer/Printer
• Books
• Writing supplies/printer paper/notebooks
• Calculator/PDA
• Backpack
• Folders/binders/software

Personal Expenses. These expenses will vary depending on your lifestyle, i.e., how often you do laundry, any medical expenses (such as allergy meds), etc.

• Laundry
• Medical expenses
• Club/organization memberships
• Food
• Travel
• Music/Entertainment
• Clothing
• Hygiene
• Transportation

Managing Your Student Loans

Because you'll be waiting for loan disbursements for at least the first semester, it's wise to come to college with a minimum of $500 in the bank to tide you over while you're waiting. Most expenses will be incurred at the beginning of the semester, so you'll want to be sure you have money available to make it through that first month.

Loans are usually dispersed in two payments at the beginning of each semester, so budget accordingly. Sign up for direct deposit -- if available at your school -- so you'll see the money in your account much quicker.

Managing Your Scholarships and Grants

With scholarships, the money is typically paid directly to the school, which deducts its portion and then forwards the balance to you. Don't jeopardize your free money by letting your GPA slip! Like scholarships, your grant money will be forwarded to the college to deduct its share and you can receive the balance. Constantly monitor your account to make sure your scholarship or grant money is properly accounted for.

Choosing the Right Bank for Your Account

Research the banks or credit unions in your area to make sure you're getting the most you can. Many local banks will offer student discounts. Consider the following when choosing the bank that's right for you:

• Low transaction fees;
• No transaction limits per month;
• Low or minimum required balance;
• Overdraft protection;
• Abundance of accessible ATM machines;
• Direct deposit option;
• Availability of debit card or check card;
• Online banking options.

The Importance of Balancing Your Checkbook

Keep track of all your accounts by balancing your checkbook often. This will allow you to always monitor how much cash you have on hand, as well as alerting you to any bank errors. Either balance it daily, or do it at the end of the month when your statement has been prepared. There are relatively inexpensive software programs available for tracking your expenses in different categories.

Monthly Bills

If you're living in a place off campus, you'll have to budget utility bills such as water, gas, rent and electricity. If you're living with roommates, put each utility in a different person's name to help build credit for each of you and not put the burden on one person. If you do elect to live on campus, your only monthly bill will probably be your cell phone (unless your parents have agreed to pay for it).

Savings Account/Emergency Funds

There will always be something that you want or need that you haven't budgeted for, so keeping a savings account is a great idea. Emergencies do happen, so financial flexibility in the event of an unexpected event is very important. You may find emergency funds through your student affairs or financial aid offices as well.

Student Credit Cards

Student loans and credit cards are a great way for you to build your credit, as long as you are responsible. Don't always pay the minimum balance on your credit card or you'll end up paying a lot more money than you borrowed. If your credit rating drops, it can be difficult to regain it. Just use the card occasionally and try to pay off the balance each month. You'll be able to appreciate the importance of a good credit score later in your life.

So there you have it! By following these budgeting tips, you should be on your way to a successful -- and less stressful -- first year of college.