Budgeting Hacks

Top 5 Back to School Budgeting Hacks for College Students

August 18, 2023
by Erin Baca, Cal Poly Student

Budgeting is an essential factor in ensuring that the school year goes smoothly. While the task may seem daunting, budgeting allows you to take control of your finances, avoid debt, and reduce stress while you build a foundation for the future.

Here are five practical tips to help you kick off the new school year:

1. Build a Budget

You need a clear understanding of your financial situation. Start by calculating your income, which may include paychecks, allowance, scholarships, or financial aid. Next, track your expenses by listing all your costs such as rent, tuition, transportation, and groceries — and don’t forget to account for fun and entertainment.

Try using a budgeting app or you can also fill out this printable Budget Template in English or Spanish. SESLOC Online Banking also has cool budgeting tools to keep you on track.

2. Differentiate Between Needs and Wants

While blowing your paycheck on a new pair of shoes may sound appealing, you need to be conscious of which purchases are necessary. Focus on fulfilling your essential needs first, such as tuition, rent, groceries, and utilities. Once these needs are accounted for, you have the freedom to spend the remainder of your funds on non-essential purchases such as dining out and activities with friends.

3. Make Saving a Priority

As easy as it is to see a few extra dollars in your account as an opportunity to treat yourself, it is important to prioritize saving. Set aside a portion of your income for savings. Even small amounts add up over time to build your financial safety net. Open a savings account to keep your money safe, and treat saving like it’s a bill you have to pay each month.

4. Be Realistic

Budgeting does not have to be strict or stressful. It’s your money! Treat yourself because you earned it, but remember to set realistic expectations for your income and expenses and take into account that surprises will pop up. Be honest with yourself about your spending habits and set reasonable limits that you know you can maintain. Your budget is not set in stone and may require adjustments from time to time.

5. Seek Out Deals

Seek out student discounts and opportunities around campus and online. For example, skip an expensive monthly gym payment by working out at the campus Recreation Center for free. Consider alternative options to making a purchase like renting or borrowing an item, or even trading with another student. Research what deals are available in the surrounding community — there many  student discounts available at local businesses in San Luis Obispo.

Stretch the value of your dollar — SESLOC members can earn bonus rewards points¹ at 125+ participating Local Rewards² businesses when you make a purchase with your SESLOC HomeFREE Checking™ debit card, including at Mustang Shops on and off campus, Mustang Lanes, and the Cal Poly Ticket Office. Points can be redeemed for gift cards, cash back, and more.

Need More Budgeting Tips?

Stop by the SESLOC branch in the UU and get answers to all your money questions. After all, managing your budget properly is a skill that will serve you throughout college and beyond. Now that’s #adulting.


1. The SESLOC Rewards program (“Program”) is a service provided by SESLOC Credit Union (“Sponsor”) and managed by ampliFI Loyalty Solutions, LLC (“Administrator”). Participation in the Program is exclusive to those who have a current HomeFREE CheckingTM debit card or a SESLOC Visa Signature® Rewards credit card issued by the Sponsor. There is no pre-registration required. By making eligible transactions with a HomeFREE Checking account debit card and the SESLOC Visa Signature Rewards credit card, the cardholder is accepting the terms and conditions of the Program. See seslocrewards.org for Program terms and conditions. You retain the option to utilize these services as long as you are a HomeFREE Checking or SESLOC Visa Signature Rewards cardholder. Subject to terms and conditions. Sponsor and Administrator reserves the right to modify, expand, discontinue, or retire any part of the program at any time.
2. Local Rewards bonus points are earned on purchases made at participating Local Businesses only. Participating Local Businesses (“merchants”) are subject to change at any time without notice. Participation in Local Rewards does not constitute an endorsement on the part of either the merchant or SESLOC Credit Union. Purchases made at participating merchants processed through third-party services (e.g. DoorDash, Grub Hub, Uber Eats ect.) may not qualify for bonus points under Local Rewards. Local Rewards is part of the SESLOC Rewards program; see seslocrewards.org for complete terms, conditions, restrictions and eligibility that apply. For any questions regarding Local Rewards, contact SESLOC Credit Union.

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