Tools to Help You Budget for College

What Are the Best Tools to Help You Budget for College?

For college students, managing money is much easier with access to smart apps and time-saving tools. Check out eight of the best tools to help you budget for college:

  1. College Cost Calculator
  2. CashCourse
  3. Spreadsheet
  4. PocketGuard
  5. Prism Bills & Money
  6. LearnVest
  7. Mint

College Cost Calculator

Before you start adding numbers to your budget, it’s a good idea to understand how much you truly need. Naturally, if you don’t fully comprehend how much college costs, it’s tough to know how to budget.

To assess the total cost of getting your degree, use a college cost calculator. This digital tool is helpful for those who are just about to enter college as well as high school students who still have a few years to go before college becomes a reality. It factors in the current cost of college, along with the annual increase in college costs and the percentage of the total cost you’re planning to cover with your savings. If you haven’t decided on a college yet, just use the average college cost to get an idea of what to expect.

If you’re trying to decide between two or more colleges and the cost is a major factor, try using a digital financial aid comparison tool. After entering the cost of attendance, you can enter your total scholarships, grants, loans, and work-related income to calculate which university offers the best deal. Remember to consider intangible value, too. For instance, the school needs to have a program that you want to study. You might also read about return on investment at different institutions. 


If this is your first time creating a budget, you may need a crash course in college-related expenses, basic living expenses in college, financial aid repayment, and using credit cards responsibly. Try CashCourse, which the National Endowment for Financial Education developed with college students in mind.

After signing up for a free account, you can enroll in no-cost financial education seminars, watch videos about budgeting, and even use simple worksheets and calculators to get your budget started. This handy resource also offers helpful advice and current articles that answer your questions about money, saving, and budgeting, so you can start your college career on the right track.


If you’re ready to begin mapping out a budget, try keeping things simple at first. You can write out your monthly expenses and income on paper or make it digital with a spreadsheet program. Use one of the many free spreadsheet programs, such as Google Sheets, which even allows you online access and sharing capabilities.

Try creating two different spreadsheet tabs, one with your anticipated expenses and income, and one that tracks your actual expenses and income on a monthly basis. Be sure to keep the numbers in the actual tab updated on a daily or weekly basis, and don’t forget to compare them to the numbers in the anticipated tab at least once a month. Tracking your spending is known to influence buying decisions. As a result, it may help you reconsider buying that frappuccino every morning.  


If you’d rather use a tool that takes care of many of the calculations for you, try PocketGuard. This smartphone app keeps things simple by calculating your income and expenditures and telling you how much you have left to spend. It can factor in your rent payment, tuition fees, textbook costs, and any other expenses you add to the app.

PocketGuard is particularly helpful if you’re constantly wondering how much you can spend on a certain day or until the end of the month. It can also help you reign in your spending and develop healthier habits.

Prism Bills & Money

When you go to college, you’ll be responsible for a number of bills you may never have had to pay before. It isn’t easy to keep track of all your new expenses, but an app like Prism can help. This smartphone app lets you view how much you owe for all your current bills, along with due dates to help with planning. You can pay your bills from the app or schedule them for later. Prism even saves payment confirmations, so you never have to wonder whether or not you paid your bills.


LearnVest offers free and paid software, but the basic version is more than sufficient for most college students. Simply link your bank and credit card accounts to the app to start tracking how much you make and spend. You can create custom budgets in the app, so you can easily plan for all your college expenses for the semester or the whole year.

This app even lets you input cash transactions so you can account for every single cent. You can also access financial advice and articles in the app to enhance your grasp of budgeting.


One of the best known and most robust budgeting apps, Mint is also a smart pick for college students. Like some other apps, Mint connects and syncs with all of your financial accounts, so you can easily track your spending and the status of your bank account in real-time.

Mint also lets you create an unlimited number of budgets with as many customized categories as you want, so you can find out where your money is really going. You can also use the app’s Cash vs. Credit feature to keep an eye on how your credit card balances stack up against your available cash.

Whether you’re paying for college on your own or you can depend on financial contributions from your family, creating a reasonable budget is essential. Get started by downloading these apps and mapping out your spending patterns, so you know what to expect in college. Start to spend less while in high school before having to make big payments. Besides helping you adjust to a more frugal lifestyle, it will help you develop strong saving habits.