Budgeting for Nursing School

Creating and maintaining a personal budget is crucial to successful financial management. A budget provides a comprehensive overview of your spending and saving habits, as well as how much you need to cover monthly expenses. Despite this, most Americans do not maintain a personal budget. While many feel that budgeting is unnecessary, poor personal finance management can lead to serious consequences, and even minor lifestyle changes may result in financial struggles.

Maintaining a budget is especially useful for college students, who tend to face many expenses while earning low incomes.

Maintaining a budget is especially useful for college students, who tend to face many expenses while earning low incomes. Nursing students must deal with particularly challenging financial constraints, including expensive courses that often require lab fees, pricey textbooks, and difficult course materials that prevent them from working full time. By developing a monthly budget, you can take some of the stress out of money management -- and nursing school.

You do not need an accounting degree, or even extensive financial knowledge, to create a budget and acquire healthy spending habits. A budget that fits your lifestyle and goals is the first step on the path to financial success. This guide offers a glance into the budgeting process, as well as tips and tricks to getting started.

Getting Started

Budgeting Terminology

Total Income: This term is used to describe the entire sum you hold when you begin school, including any financial aid you have received and any money you earn through employment.

Monthly Income: Your monthly income is the amount of money you obtain each month through work, grants, living stipends, or other sources. This sum may vary periodically, depending on your work schedule and course load.

Discretionary Income: These funds are not designated for specific expenses or savings, and may be spent on whatever you want. Discretionary income is the amount of money left over after paying for essentials.

Essentials: This category includes necessities and college-related expenses. Rent, utilities, groceries, tuition and supplies, and anything else you need to live and to succeed at school are considered essentials.

Nonessentials: Nonessentials are things you may want but do not need, such as entertainment, going out to dinner, or travel expenses.

Fixed Expenses: A fixed expense is any sum that does not typically change from month to month, such as rent or some utility bills. Most fixed expenses must be paid on a recurring basis.

Variable Expenses: These expenses fluctuate from one payment period to another, and are more difficult to budget for than fixed expenses. The cost of certain utilities, food, and gas, for example, usually vary from one month to the next.

Emergency Funds: Usually consisting of two to three months' worth of income, an emergency fund is money set aside for unexpected costs that arise, such as medical care and mechanical work.

Track Your Spending

Assess Current Financial Spending

Determine roughly how much you spend by estimating your average expenditures over the past several months. It may help to download several of your most recent bank statements. This provides a better picture of how much you spend each month, and where that money goes.

Categorize Expenses

List your expenses and divide them into essential and nonessential categories. Essentials are the things that you must spend money on to live, work, and study, including fixed expenses like rent or car payments and variable expenses like tuition. As a nursing student, budget any lab fees or textbooks as essentials. Nonessentials are any purchases that aren't absolutely necessary.

Do the Math

Once you've categorized your expenses, you can add up all of your essential expenses for the average month. Subtract this number from your monthly income, and you'll be left with your discretionary income, or the amount you can afford to spend after covering the fundamentals.

Create Your Budget

If your discretionary income is a negative number, you may be living beyond your means, and must find a way to increase your income or reduce your essential costs. This may require downgrading your phone plan, buying cheaper groceries, or finding other ways to save money. Look for more tips on cost reduction later on in this guide.

Budget planners often recommend following a 50/20/30 rule. Half your income should be set aside for essentials, about 20% for savings, and the rest for nonessentials or personal expenses. While this rule provides a good starting point, it may not work for everyone, especially college students. You may wish to adapt this method to better fit your income level and lifestyle. No budget is set in stone, and financial planning is most effective when it helps you achieve your personal goals. Let's take a look at how you can make your budget even more effective by keeping it up to date.

Maintaining Your Budget

A budget only works if you maintain it on a regular basis. It is important to update your budget if you receive a pay raise, your rent increases, or change phone contracts. A budget plan that works one semester may not be appropriate for the next, and you should periodically review and update your budget, taking into account any increases or decreases in expenses or income. A tuition hike or paying off a car loan are both events that strongly influence how you manage your finances.

Even without experiencing significant lifestyle changes, it is essential to revise your budget from time to time. Whether you choose to evaluate your budget every semester or every six months, examining and updating your financial plan is the best way to learn what habits are helping you save, and which areas need work. Small changes can make a big difference, and you may notice cost-cutting opportunities that you have previously overlooked.

Budgeting Tools

Left to Spend: This app makes it simple to track how much you spend each day and how much you can afford to spend. By entering your discretionary income and daily expenses, you can measure how well you are adhering to your budget.

Microsoft Excel: One of the most popular programs of its kind, Excel is the gold standard in budgeting software. Featuring customizable spreadsheets, Excel translates information into a variety of easy-to- read formats. Many schools provide students with free or discounted copies of the program, and you many sites feature free templates that can help you get the most out of Excel.

Mint: Created by the makers of TurboTax, this app allows users to track individual expenses and define separate budgets for different essentials and nonessentials. An alert option provides reminders when bill payments are due, and users may link the app to their TurboTax account.

Personal Capital: This site includes numerous free and paid money management resources. While many of the tools are geared toward prospective investors, others allow you to track hidden fees or plan for retirement.

Simple.com: Featuring simple interfaces, this convenient banking app lets you set personal savings goals by automatically setting aside money for specific purchases. Regular updates let you know how much you can safely spend in a given period.

Wally: Wally is a comprehensive personal finance management app that tracks expenses and income, providing detailed information about how much you spend and where. Featuring unique capabilities that let users monitor multiple types of currency, this app may be especially helpful for foreign students and those studying abroad.

YNAB: This website offers a free one-month trial, but costs $6.99 a month thereafter. YNAB does all of the hard budgeting work for you by automatically putting aside money toward specific goals and expenses. Linking your bank account to the site makes it even easier to quickly make adjustments to your budget.

Tips for Cutting Costs in College

Successful budgeting in nursing school requires developing healthy spending habits, such as tracking your spending, reserving credit card use for emergencies, and building credit. When you make purchases, look for opportunities to save money. Healthy spending does not mean that you must deny yourself the things that you want. Instead, you should examine purchases in a larger context. How much money do you have to spend on nonessentials, and how will buying something affect your budget? The following tips offer more ways to stretch your dollars.

At-Home Meal Preparation: Individuals who prepare lunch at home instead of eating out end up spending much less money over time. Planning meals in advance saves both time and money, and is much healthier in the long run. When you do choose to dine out, smartphone apps can help you cut costs. Many apps offer coupons and discounts or show nearby deals and specials, while others tell you how to split the bill.

Use Student Discounts: From movie tickets to clothing and computers, your student ID can help save you money on a variety of products and services. Many retailers and restaurants offer student discounts, and most major tech companies feature special price options for college students. In addition, schools often host free or inexpensive social events, such as concerts, parties, and film screenings.

Find Cheap Textbooks: Textbooks are one of any college student's largest expenses. Fortunately, there are plenty of money-saving options for students who wish to cut costs, and a little research can save you a lot of cash. Used books and ebooks are cheaper than new copies, and some schools and libraries offer textbook rental services. Plenty of websites feature deeply discounted books, both new and used.

Graduate Earlier: Many students take longer to graduate than they originally anticipated, and an increase in program length means an increase in expenses. Graduating early can save money. There are numerous ways to do this, including taking accelerated courses and doubling your course load. To explore your early graduation options, contact your school's admissions counselor.

Additional Resources

Bad With Money With Gaby Dunn

Don't let the name fool you -- this podcast contains a wealth of valuable advice, from someone who has faced her own financial struggles.

Nursing Times

Field-specific publications like Nursing Times often publish features on budgeting and personal finance, written from an industry perspective.

Federal Student Aid

The official FSA site offers numerous tips for developing and maintaining a budget as you attend college.

Better Money Habits

Providing a host of handy tips and tutorials, Better Money Habits teaches visitors everything from budget development to creative saving strategies.


This government site offers free financial management resources, including downloadable budgeting worksheets and comprehensive guides to opening a bank account, financing college, student budget development, and renting an apartment.

The Balance

The Balance is a website dedicated to covering money and financial topics, including the best banking and budget apps.