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Attention Great Lakes will no longer be servicing federal student loans as of June 2023. Nelnet, whom we've shared the same parent company with since 2018, will be your new student loan servicer. Like two sides of the same coin, we'll continue to work together with the shared commitment of helping you successfully manage your student loans. For more information about the transfer to Nelnet, visit Nelnet.com/transfer.

Symbolic pie chart representation of a budget with categories "gas, food, utilities, insurance, and credit cards" in view and stacks of pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters were resting on top.

Budgeting & Money Management for Students

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What is Budgeting?

Budgeting is important for your financial stability, ensuring you can pay common expenses like rent, tuition, student loans, credit card bills, and entertainment. But what exactly is budgeting? It's a proactive approach to organizing your finances. Budgeting ensures you're not spending more than you're making, allowing you to plan for short- and long-term expenses. It's an easy, helpful way for people with all types of income and expenses to keep their finances in order. You simply want to be able to track your income left over after all expenses to ensure you're not falling into debt.

If your income minus expenses is:

If you're income is positive If you're income is negative If you're income is positive If you're income is negative


You're earning more than you're spending, which is where you want your finances to be. You can afford your expenses and maintain a good credit rating.

Set Financial Goals

Setting realistic financial goals gives you a head start to create your budget. It's important to have something to work toward financially, whether it's paying all of your bills on time every month or saving up for a vacation. But it's just as important to ensure you're working toward realistic goals you can actually meet so you don't end up disappointed by missing goals outside your capabilities. Think about what kinds of goals you want to set, both short- and long-term.


  • Save enough money for next semester's books.
  • Pay extra on your student loans or other debt payments each month.


  • Pay off your student loans within the next five years.
  • Save up for the down payment for a new car.
make your goals
Make your goals SMART


Go to previous SMART goal Go to next SMART goal

Specific: Smart goals are specific enough to suggest action. Specify why you're saving money, not just that you want to save.


Once you've thought out your goals, write them down and hang them up. Having something you can see every day will make those goals a reality to you.

Budgeting Tips

Once you get the hang of it, budgeting is easy. However, there are a lot of ways you can get derailed from your budget. Here are some additional tips to help keep you on track with your budgeting.


Go to previous budgeting tip Go to next budgeting tip

Be Honest with Yourself.
When you first start your budget, if you're not honest about the things you're already spending money on, it's going to be hard to set goals and properly track your expenses. Start with your current financial situation and make adjustments after you've assessed where you're at.

Steps for Getting Started

It's typically easiest to create a budget on a computer, either in a spreadsheet or using budgeting software. Spreadsheets allow you to easily calculate your budget in numerous ways (e.g., monthly or yearly totals). Once you've decided how you want to create your budget, you can get started.

Read the previous step Read the next step


Read the previous step Read the next step

Start with your income.
Track the amount of money you have coming in every month, from jobs, work study, scholarships, grants, student loans, or money given to you. When tracking income from your job, it's easiest to use the amount you take home after taxes. This is the pool of money you have available for your budget, so get it as accurate as possible.

Check Your Budget

See how you're doing with your current monthly spending, and whether or not you need to reevaluate it, by entering the appropriate amounts for the upcoming month in our budget checker.

Monthly Income

Toggle Income Tip

Job (after taxes, including seasonal jobs or work study)

Student loans/



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