Ballin' on a Budget: Four Steps to Creating Your Off-Campus Budget

Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee
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Budgeting doesn't have to be scary!


You’ve signed the papers. The leasing manager gave you your keys. You’re in your off-campus apartment’s living room surrounded by cardboard boxes and you think to yourself, “Wow, I’m actually an adult.”

Then the bills start to come.

Moving on your own means paying your own bills, and a common mistake for new adults is overspending: going out for drinks with friends, late-night DoorDash meals while cramming for finals, or that new college sweatshirt to rep your collegiate pride. Creating a budget as soon as you start out on your own allows you to stay on top of all your bills while still having a little spending money for the fun moments in college.

Determine just how much money you make in a month

The first step in creating a budget is figuring out what your income is. This starts at your job: what is your salary? 

If you are an hourly employee, it may help to estimate how many hours you work within a pay period (weekly, biweekly, etc.). Always do a low estimate and a high estimate; this can give you a range of money you expect to take in. Here’s an example, based on national averages for college-age part-time employees:

Hourly rate: $15 per hour

Low hours: 15 hours a week OR 60 hours a month

High hours: 20 hours a week OR 80 hours a month

Income range: $900 - $1200 a month before taxes

For salaried employees, just take your total salary and divide it by 12. That’s how much you bring in a month, before taxes.

Determine how much money you spend on bills

This is the fun part (but, not really). Add up all your bills by category to get a total amount of expenses in a given month. It may help to put the due dates for these expenses as well.

It’s important to be very thorough on this step. You don’t want to miss a bill and end up in debt or worse.

I also recommend having an emergency fund — a set amount of money set aside each month for emergencies. Life doesn’t usually work on strict agendas, so it’s better to be safe or sorry if you find yourself in a jam.

Here’s an example of an expenses list, based on my personal experience. I lived in a three-bedroom apartment with two roommates, so your costs may vary:

Rent: $400

Utilities: $50

Netflix: $8.99

Groceries: $50

Gas: $35

Emergency fund: $50

Total: 593.99

Finally, subtract this amount from your low range income to see how much you have leftover:

Income: $840

- Expenses: $593.99

$246.01 leftover

This is your extra spending change! Cha-Ching!

Test your budget

Remember that your budget is just arbitrary numbers if you don’t put it to work. During your first month, test the budget you created and adjust as necessary.

Some things to look for are if you end up spending more on groceries or gas, you end up getting another streaming service (since you can’t watch all the episodes of iCarly without Paramount+), your utilities cost more than expected, or you end up taking a large income cut at work. All of these changes can affect your budget, so you should look for them in your first month or so.

Continue to monitor your budget and make changes

And there you go! You’ve created a decent budget to make sure all your bills are paid and you still have some dollars left in your account. 

Now, it’s important to monitor your budget to make sure you are adhering to it. Remember, without discipline, a budget is just an arbitrary list of numbers that mean nothing!

Also, remember that life doesn’t always adhere to your budget. Try not to beat yourself up if you have to spend extra on a broken laptop, a forgotten oil change, or even a spontaneous lunch with friends. Just remember to try not to overdo it and get back on track as soon as possible!

Happy budgeting!


SaMya Overall

SaMya Overall is a junior at Michigan State University studying English, French, and Women and Gender Studies. She’s currently a production editorial intern at Macmillan and the copy chief at The State News. She loves romance YA books with minority characters.