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See My Budget: I’m a Student

Planning My College Budget on $280/month

Editor’s note: There are many different ways to pay for college, and this snapshot shows a student with some support from parents. If you’re a student who is using loans through college, we’d love to hear from you too—reach out in the comments for the chance to be featured in an upcoming snapshot!

Welcome to YNAB Money Snapshots—where you see a real (and anonymous) picture of someone else’s budget and finances to help inspire your own journey.

While some people make lots of money and some people make a little bit of money, what you do with that money means more than any yearly salary.

See how a soon-to-be college student manages their money.


  • Name: Maui
  • Age: 18
  • Location: Pittsburgh, PA
  • Job: Summer camp counselor and soon-to-be college student
  • Living situation: I’m living with my parents for the next two months, but I’ll be moving to a dorm soon.

Income: ~$3,000/year

  • I make about $3,000 over the course of the summer as a camp counselor.

Savings: $1,825

  • Most of this is earmarked for college costs.

Debt: $0

  • I don’t have a car and I’m going to a school where I don’t plan to take out student loans thanks to parental support and tuition covered since my dad works at the school.

Average Monthly Inflow: $500-$1,000/month in the summer

  • I bring in about $500-$1,000 a month sporadically throughout the summer.

My Budget

money snapshot 2021

About My Budget

All the money I have right now ($1,825) is budgeted toward these categories and I’m currently budgeted out through February. The categories at the bottom are the fun things I’m saving for whenever I have extra money.

Right now, I’m not planning to work right away in college. I’m going to wait a few months to see how the school year goes. If money is tight, I have a job lined up if need be.

My Financial Setup for College

When I did college tours, there was a school I totally fell in love with, but going to it also meant I’d take on considerable debt by the time I graduated. I opted to go to a school my dad works at and I can attend tuition free.

I set aside about $1400 from my summer earnings in my college fund to cover cost of living and quality of life stuff (like meals off the food plan). Room and board gets bumped down in cost because I’m going to a school within the state, and my parents are covering that.

My Story

My parents were always pretty good with money considering they grew up not very wealthy. Now, my mom makes good money, so I didn’t have the same experiences around money that she did. I’d say we’re comfortably upper middle class.

Growing up, luxuries were often rationed. I was raised with a constant, “We don’t need that, we’re not buying that.” My parents were never careless with money and never tried to be overly luxurious. Instead it was a lot of quality of life things like big vacations.

I started touring college sophomore year. For a very long time, I wanted to keep my options open—I could’ve taken out loans to go to a school I fell in love with (Oberlin). But, I would have had to pay quite a lot of money for that school. I don’t want to pay $120K and take on that debt.

I’m taking a lot of gen ed courses to start. I plan on taking a lot of English composition classes and religious studies courses. Education is a tempting field too. If I ended up teaching English or comparative religion, that would be a nice meeting of worlds.

My Financial Goals

  1. Living in college
  2. Afford Christmas stuff

A lot of people struggle to know how much those things will cost. I’m trying to feel like an adult.

I’m fully aware I don’t have a lot of money. I also don’t have demanding expenses. If I had a mortgage or a car on my list of expenses, that’s a big sink of cash. I would feel more out of control than I do right now. I purposely try to avoid all that and student loans so I can just live on less.

Right now, I’m planning my monthly costs for college quality of life stuff at around $280/month.

I would rate my current financial situation: 5/5

A Financial Counselor Reacts

I’m Rachel, a writer and an Accredited Financial Counselor® here at YNAB. I had the pleasure of talking to Maui for this YNAB Snapshot.

First, Maui is more organized, proactive, and responsible than I was a decade later. Did you catch that part of Maui’s budget where they are already budgeting gas money to pay friends in college (which I have no doubt will be made, but whose names are unknown as of yet). College students—MAUI IS THE CONSIDERATE FRIEND YOU WANT! Maui and Maui’s mom—you’ve done amazing work here.  

But seriously, my recommendations here are so light that they’re almost laughable. But, I’ll mention them just to be thorough.

  1. Build in a little more of a cushion. Add a monthly category target—maybe $25-$50 to start, to give your expenses some breathing room (and more room for that late-night hotdog run that might become a tradition). Since you’re about to start such a new phase of life, there will inevitably be some surprises. Since we can’t anticipate them, we’ll just do the next best thing and plan for the unexpected.

Maui’s response: I have good pillage categories and purposely buffer (put extra money) in some of those.  

Nice! Way to go!

  1. Have you considered looking at a Roth IRA? This is a retirement savings option that is especially beneficial in your earliest earning years.

Maui’s response: I’m already looking!

Yep, that just confirms my hypothesis as possibly the most prepared college student that ever existed. Anything I missed?

We want to acknowledge that Maui is blessed with considerable privilege and is able to make choices that others cannot because of it. Maui recognizes this as well! Despite this, they show incredible financial maturity for an 18-year-old. Maui has a bright future. Please be kind in discussions about this blog and remember that Maui is a real person (with fantastic, Maui-like hair).

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See My Budget: I’m a Student