How To

The Best Budgeting Calculators for College Students

(photo: Christian Steen)

When you’re in college, budgeting is different than budgeting in the outside world. To begin with, your largest bills — tuition, room and board — could be due on an annual or semester basis. Even most your meals could be paid-for in one large upfront payment (a meal plan) instead of with daily or weekly  trips to the supermarket or favorite food joints.

Try these calculators to help you plan and estimate your expenses. Then, use Mint.com to track the expenses from the budget you create.

General College Budgeting Calculators

Bankrate.com

Bankrate’s student budgeting calculator doesn’t just have entry spaces for school expenses, groceries, living expenses, etc.  It has mini calculators for each section. For instance, if you click on the school expenses calculator, you’ll find the following subcategories: tuition, textbooks, supplies and related materials, lab fees, library fees, photocopying, and other. You can also input your expenses based on time period: Semester 1 & 2, semester 2, start of school year and monthly. Click view report after you press calculate. If you don’t, you’ll only see annual tabulations in each category. The report is intense. It breaks your expenses down for the school year from September to April, as well as for each category.

WalletPop.com

WalletPop’s “How much should I budget for college living expenses?” calculator is a one-page, expense-based budgeting calculator with five main categories: educational, communications, personal, transporation, insurance and other. There is some sub-categorization, but it’s still on the same page. For instance, education breaks down to books and lab and other fees. Tuition and housing aren’t included, as this calculator is meant to isolate other expenses. A nice feature within this calculator is the living expenses plus 10% feature. Budgeting with a cushion is a great habit to start while still in college. Results are provided on an annual school year basis but with a per month average.

Direct Loans

The Department of Education’s Budget calculator calculates both expenses and income on an annual basis. It’s a one page, two-column calculator. You can enter all your inputs without scrolling. You can also click on categories, such as housing, to input information for subcategories, such as dormitory/rent. This is the only calculator of this group that mentions dorms by name.

Finaid.org

This calculator is a single-page budget calculator that analyzes your budget on an annual basis. This is useful for calculating how much you’ll need to earn from a part-time job or other sources during both semesters. The income section is extensive. It’s the only calculator reviewed that mentions spouse’s income.

College Answer

Sallie Mae’s (SLM) College Answer’s “Repaying Student Loans” monthly budgeting calculator is a one-page, two-column budget calculator for expenses after college. The calculator is for students to input expected expenses with and without student loan payments. The calculator is a useful tool to consider how much to borrow for education based on how borrowing will affect your life.

Worth of Graduate School Calculator

Kiplinger

If you’re considering going back to school, Kiplinger’s “What Is the Payoff for Going Back to School?” calculator can help you look at the financial pluses and minuses of your decision. This calculator isn’t designed for short-term budgeting. Thus, you won’t see items such as food and clothing. You’ll input details that will help you compare the income you would earn without graduate school to that with a graduate degree, factoring in its cost and potential salary increase.

Future Income Calculator

Salary.com

Salary.com’s “Salary Wizard” calculates salary ranges for job positions based on area of the country. Since it’s a range, budget for the lower level of the scale if you’re new to the work force. This calculator is a necessity for estimating how much you’ll make when you get out of school. You can bring this number to your financial aid or student money management office to make sure the debt you accumulate is manageable with the salaries in your field.

Reyna Gobel is a freelance journalist who specializes in financial fitness. She is also the author of Graduation Debt: How To Manage Student Loans and Live Your Life.