What's My Budget? How to Figure Out What You Can Afford to Spend on Student Housing

By Jessica Nemire
Posted on 4 September 2021

When picking your student housing, one of the most important things to do is determine how much you have to spend. You can do this by creating a student budget.

Sounds daunting? Don’t worry! We’re here to help! Read this post to find out everything you need to know about creating a student budget.

What is a Student Budget?

Good start, right? A student budget looks at how much money you make each month and how much you have saved up, and then compares it to how much money you need each month for expenses such as rent, tuition, and so on.

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What Does a Student Budget Include?

A student budget includes everything that you will be spending money on each month during each semester. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Groceries
    Figure out roughly how much money you spend on groceries a week. The national average is between $42 and $55 for college students. Then multiply this number by 4 to find out how much you will need for a month. For example, if you determine that you spend $42 a week on groceries, you will need to make sure you have $168 a month saved up for groceries.


  • Coffee and other food- and drink-related expenses
  • Streaming services and subscriptions

           - Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Disney Plus, and anything else you pay for monthly (except for the ones your parents pay for or your ex’s account that                  you’re still logged into)

  • Tuition

- Make sure you know how much your college tuition is per semester. Then divide it by the number of weeks in a semester - for example, fall semester is usually August to December - to determine how much money you have to pay for tuition every month. 

  • Textbooks and other school materials 
    Notebooks, pencils, other things you will need. Usually the syllabus for your classes will detail which textbooks you will need, and you can look up the cost.
  • Car payments and parking

  • Other transportation costs
    - Weekly bus fare to and from school, work and other places you will have to go if you don’t have a car 
  • Toiletries 

- Shampoo, toothpaste, and so on

  • Furniture 
    - Which items for your living situation do you already have - bed, desk, dresser, etc. - and which do you need? 

Helpful tip: You can usually find reasonably priced used furniture on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist so you don’t break the bank on furniture!

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Figuring Out What You Can Spend on Student Housing 

Once you know what your monthly expenses are, you will be able to determine how much you are able to spend on student housing expenses. 

These include:

  •  Rent
  • Moving expenses
    - Student housing complexes always ask for a security deposit, and some will also ask you to pay an amount equivalent to your last month’s rent as well

  • Utilities
    - On top of rent, you will have to pay for utilities. This includes gas, water, heating, WiFi, and sometimes also other expenses such as paying for trash pickup services, etc.
  • Shared housing items

- You will also need items such as a vacuum and cleaning supplies, as well as kitchen items like a toaster. Typically, college roommates will either split the cost of all of these, or each person will bring one item. 

Helpful tip: Opening up a student bank account with a student debit or credit card can help you stay on budget and keep track of your finances.

How to Start Making Your Student Budget

There are 5 easy steps to help you figure out what your student budget is: 

1. Gather All Your Financial Information in One Place

Gather your most recent bank statement, credit or debit card statement, tax return and pay stubs. 

Next, get a budgeting tool - such as a budgeting worksheet - to help you organize the information. There are lots of free budgeting tools on the Internet to help you.

2. Determine your basic income 

Your “basic income” is the money you will be making every month. Figure out your basic income by determining your typical hourly wage in a week.

If you don’t have a job with a typical schedule, base your basic income off of the lowest amount of money you might earn in a month. 

Helpful tip: By basing your budget on your lowest earning month, you will financially be more prepared than if you base it off of your highest earning month. Expect the best, be prepared for the worst!

3. Determine your fixed costs

The next step is to figure out what your fixed costs are. Fixed costs are necessary costs that you will have every month. We’ve gone over some of these above, but your fixed costs will likely include:

  • Groceries
  • Tuition 
  • Car payments and parking
  • Other transportation costs
  • Rent
  • Utilities  

Look at your credit card and bank statements to find all the expenses that are fixed costs. Add up the total. Then subtract this number from your basic income. The answer is your discretionary income.

4. Determine your fixed “optional” costs

Whereas your fixed costs are expenses you absolutely have to pay every month - rent, gas and electricity - your fixed “optional” costs are expenses that you pay every month but that aren’t 100 percent essential. For example, your gym membership, Netflix, and so on. 

Whereas we support having a gym membership, if you find yourself low on finances one month, your fixed “optional” costs are a good place to start when you are looking for things to stop spending as much money on.

Once you figure out what all your fixed “optional” costs are, add them all up and subtract them from your discretionary income.

5. Identify your “variable expenses”

Variable expenses can be one of two things. They are either expenses that you either don’t pay every month or expenses whose costs change every month. These include expenses from the list in the beginning, such as textbooks and other school materials, toiletries, and so on. These should also include new clothes, trips back home, and so on.

Add up all your variable expenses from the past month. If it is an odd number, round up so it’s even. You should do this with your variable expenses because they are not consistent, so the total number will be different every month. 

Once you have the number, subtract it from the number you got in Step 4. 

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Now it is time to use the budget you created to determine how much money you can afford to spend monthly on your student housing. Make sure you know how much student housing typically costs in your area so you can get a realistic idea of how much you will need to be spending. 

If you don’t find enough room in your current budget to pay for rent without also struggling financially, you may want to look into picking up a part-time job (if you don’t work) or cutting down on some of the optional expenses from Step 4. 

Helpful tip: You can find student housing on Dorms.com and filter your searches by location, room type, price, and more! Simply select the city you’re looking for student housing in from the home page and then use the filters at the top. Happy housing hunting!