Budgeting for Nursing School

by Nalea J. Ko

This guide looks at budgeting for nursing students. Keep reading for tips to reduce costs, free budgeting tools, and links to useful personal management resources.

Budgeting for Nursing School

Wondering how to budget for nursing college? Most undergraduate and graduate students rely on federal student loans to help pay for their education. To avoid the pitfalls of student debt, you can start now by creating a budget and learning how to pay bills while still in nursing school.

About 76% of undergraduate nursing students and 69% of graduate nursing students took out loans, according to a 2017 survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Repaying loans after graduation is their top concern as roughly 20% of graduate nursing students owe about $40,000-$54,999.

This guide will help you track your spending through nursing school, provide tips to save cash on supplies and books, and provide the tools to achieve long-term financial health.

How to Create a Budget for Nursing School

A budget is what you spend and what you earn each month. Creating a budget for nursing college can offer a clear picture of three types of expenses: fixed, variable, and emergency. A budget helps you plan for the future by plainly illustrating your needs for tuition, nursing supplies, and licensing fees.

Budgeting also helps you identify areas where you need to save money. If you spend too much on dining out, you may need to cut back on food expenses by packing a lunch.

Whether for a household, corporation, or individual, all budgets document income and spending. You can create a budget using a paper and pen, an app, or an Excel spreadsheet.

1. Track Your Spending
Nursing students must be proactive about their finances by tracking their spending. Using a budget for nursing college with current and future expenses, such as equipment, scrubs, and fees for licensing or certification exams, offers insight into where you can cut costs.
Start by gathering your bank and credit card statements. Organize the expenses to include:

•  Recurring bills like rent or mortgage, car payments, and insurance (fixed monthly expenses)

•  Bills that might change each month, such as gas, food, and supplies (variable monthly expenses)

•  Expenses you pay annually or biannually, such as tuition

2. Categorize Your Spending
Next, categorize your spending as essential or nonessential. Think carefully about the things you want and the things you need.
Essential expenses include costs such as transportation, groceries, and rent or mortgage. Most fixed costs qualify as essential. Certain variable costs, including utilities, fall into the essential category. Nursing students should factor in school expenses like technology, books, and internet access.
3. Calculate Your Net Income
Your net income is your earnings after taxes and expenses. To determine your net income, subtract your earnings from your expenses. This simple calculation allows you to see if you are overspending and piling up debt or if you have extra money to save. If you have a negative net income or little to no extra money, you should look for ways to either decrease your expenses or increase your income.
4. Determine Your Financial Goals
Consider your short-term and long-term financial goals while in nursing school and after graduation. When do you intend to pay off your student loans? Do you want to pursue higher education after gaining nursing experience? Do you have a savings goal? How can you reduce your expenses while in school? Answering these questions can help you budget for nursing college and secure a healthy financial future.
5. Create Your Budget
Making a budget can feel overwhelming, but you have many helpful options to consider. Choose a plan that works for you, whether you use the Federal Trade Commission's "Make a Budget" worksheet, create a Google Sheets file, or start a new Excel breakdown. You can also follow the popular 50/20/30 rule.
When you budget according to the 50/30/20 rule, you reserve 50% of your income for essentials such as rent, food, tuition, and nursing supplies. Then 30% of your earnings go toward "wants" such as eating out, entertainment, and traveling. The remaining 20% goes to savings.

Maintaining Your Budget

Once you have your budget, regularly maintain and update it. Monitoring your budget can help you avoid financial disasters such as the inability to pay an essential bill.

Particularly tight budgets benefit even more from frequent review. Online banking provides an easy glimpse at recent transactions, so nursing students should take a few minutes once a week to check their spending.

Monitoring becomes especially important for variable expenses. Some expenses do not fluctuate much, but others can change significantly. The cost of heat, for example, spikes during the winter in colder areas of the country.

Alternatively, a new discount grocery store might lower your food bill. Regularly reviewing your budget allows you to spot new patterns and make adjustments. Always reassess your budget when you experience any changes to your income or spending.

Budgeting Tools


Technology has made budgeting much easier. Access free financial planning tools, track your spending, or pay for advice from money management advisors with the following budgeting tools. These programs and apps can help you budget for nursing college, save money, and pay off your debt after graduation.

  • Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets: Many financial providers offer downloadable budget templates or online budget solutions built on these applications. Users can view basic income, calculate total expenses, and take advantage of more sophisticated tools like cash flow analysis and debt reduction solutions. Developers include tutorials for each budgeting tool.
  • Mint: As one of the first online personal finance solutions, Mint offers extensive free financial planning tools. Users can implement and track monthly and annual budgets, debt reduction, savings, and cash flows. Mint's "trends" feature displays spending by category or merchant over a period of time. The graphing capability illustrates spending and income across categories and time. Mint is also available as an app.
  • You Need A Budget: YNAB delivers strong budget-tracking solutions. For instance, users receive alerts when they exceed their budget for a particular category. YNAB also gives detailed suggestions for budget adjustments. This service emphasizes proper budgeting through goals tracking, reporting, and personal coaching.
  • Personal Capital: This personal finance software offers a suite of analytics tools to help users reach their financial goals. The free version offers a multifactor net worth calculator, a hidden fee locator for all your financial accounts, investment performance analysis, and a retirement planning tool. Paid users can access money management advisors and other benefits.
  • Left to Spend: This app helps you control daily spending and stick to your budget. Factoring in your income and present budget, users receive a running total of their remaining income each month. The app also sets a daily spending allowance to make sure you meet your goals.
  • Wally: Wally is a free personal financial management app with highly customizable tracking options. Users can scan receipts and categorize expenses, saving frequently used merchant data. While it does not link to financial providers, Wally provides an easy-to-digest snapshot of how well users stick to their budgets.

Money-Saving Tips for Nursing School

If you follow these tips to budget for nursing college, you can discover student discounts and even learn how to make money during nursing school.

Adopt Healthy Spending Habits
Adopting responsible spending practices in college sets the stage for solid financial management throughout your lifetime. Even if your income and expenses seem low, regularly tracking your cash flow establishes important habits for personal finance. Spending Tracker, Habitica, and Slice all provide excellent tracking services. As your income grows, you can also build your credit with responsible credit card use.
At-Home Meal Preparation
Food costs may vary the most out of all essential expenses. If you purchased a $10 lunch every day, you would spend over $2,000 in a year on lunch alone. If you brown-bagged that same lunch, you would spend about $6.30 each day. Saving money in this category requires planning and time, but it can pay off for the organized college student on a budget. Consider meal-planning apps to get started.
Essential expenses include costs such as transportation, groceries, and rent or mortgage. Most fixed costs qualify as essential. Certain variable costs, including utilities, fall into the essential category. Nursing students should factor in school expenses like technology, books, and internet access.
Use Student Discounts
College enrollees can take advantage of several different discounts, depending on the school and its surrounding area. A student on a budget can nearly always find free or discounted entertainment around campus; sometimes, these events also include food. Your school's student services department can connect you with discounted resources for students. Many retailers and food service providers near college campuses also offer discounts for students. Licensed nurses also enjoy access to many special offers.
Find Cheap Textbooks
Before visiting the campus bookstore, consider alternatives like renting textbooks or purchasing them online. Some schools offer used textbooks, and students can also search for used bookstores off campus. Other learners download e-books or PDF books at a lower cost. Sites like StudentRate promise discounted offerings.
Save on Out-of-Pocket Nursing Supplies
Nursing students often must purchase lab packs for items like stethoscopes, manual blood pressure cuffs, oral thermometers, bandage scissors, and scrubs. Learners on strict budgets can buy used supplies or take advantage of discounts. Some schools require nursing students to wear specific scrubs, sometimes monogrammed with the school's name. Otherwise, companies like Crocs and FIGS offer student discounts. National Student Nurses' Association members also receive discounts at Uniform City and Scrubs and Beyond. The 3M School Sales Program also offers free stethoscopes to student organizations when they purchase 10. To find more great deals, visit our Special Discounts and Deals for Nurses page.
Graduate Earlier
Aspiring nurses can cut educational costs, including student loan debt, by finishing early. High school students can plan ahead and earn college course credits with AP and dual credit classes. In college, nursing students should take a full load of courses. Graduating early also allows learners to begin earning a salary sooner.

Setting Up for Financial Success

Pursuing a nursing degree can set learners on a journey to a financial and rewarding career, but the promise of a good paycheck should not stop students from becoming financially proactive. Budgeting early in college helps nursing students map out their financial responsibilities and ensure they graduate with the lowest amount of student debt.

Remember, the best budget is the one you will actually use.

Budgeting Terminology


  • Total Income: Total income refers to all of the financial resources available to each student, including savings, financial aid, external support, and other sources. Learners should also include expected income from a job.
  • Monthly Income: Individuals usually receive monthly income from employment but may also receive regular funds from another source. This amount may change based on the number of hours worked each month.
  • Discretionary Income: Discretionary income is the remainder after meeting essential financial obligations. Students often use discretionary income for spending money or savings.
  • Essentials: Learners must pay for essential expenses to live and succeed in school. Examples include housing, basic utilities, transportation, and health insurance. Students must also cover educational costs like tuition, books, technology, and uniforms.
  • Nonessentials: Nonessential expenses can make life more pleasant but are not necessary for survival. Examples include meal delivery services, video games, and premium gym memberships.
  • Fixed Expenses: Fixed expenses stay the same each month. Examples include housing expenses, car payments, and insurance premiums.
  • Variable Expenses: Variable expenses change from month to month. For instance, utility costs fluctuate based on usage each billing cycle.
  • Emergency Funds: Emergency funds prepare learners for unforeseen expenses like vehicle repairs or hospital stays. Wise budgeters set aside money each month for an emergency.

Additional Resources

  • The Federal Student Aid office offers budgeting advice for students. The site covers steps for creating and maintaining a budget and includes a glossary.
  • This website, dedicated to living well on a small budget, regularly publishes tips for a frugal lifestyle. Learn to save money on food and drink, health and beauty, and entertainment.
  • Lifestyle blogger Leo Babauta has aggregated dozens of articles on personal finance into one list. Readers can access advice on thrifty living, debt reduction, and budgeting.
  • As one of the oldest and most trusted names in personal finance, Kiplinger offers investment advice, tips on saving money, and guides on smart spending.
  • Frugal Rules, a debt reduction and personal financial management site, provides budgeting strategies and advice specific to recent college graduates.
  • This popular and clever personal finance site delivers useful advice about living on a budget, debt reduction, and wealth-building. MMM is also available as an app.

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