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Budgeting for Nursing School

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Anyone exploring nursing school tuition costs knows that nursing education is an investment. Nursing school can cost anywhere from $6,000 for an associate degree in nursing (ADN) to $100,000 for a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or master of science in nursing (MSN).

In fact, ADN- and BSN-holders who become registered nurses can find themselves saddled with around $80,000 in debt upon graduation. According to an American Association of Colleges of Nursing report from 2017, the median debt for graduate nursing students falls between $40,000 and $55,000.

There are many ways to help finance your nursing degree. One of the best is a simple, tried and true method: budgeting. Budgeting helps students keep a close eye on their money and allows them to save a significant chunk of their income. However, despite its effectiveness, only about 50% of people under the age of 23 budget their finances.

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.

Getting Started

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. Students should also include expected income from a job.

  • Monthly Income

    Individuals usually receive monthly income from a job, 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 amount of monthly income that remains after essential financial obligations have been met. Students often use discretionary income for spending money or savings.

  • Essentials

    Students must absolutely pay for essential expenses in order 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, professional grooming, 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 for unforeseen expenses such as vehicle repairs or hospital stays. Wise budgeters set aside money each month for emergency funds.

Track Your Spending

1. Assess Current Financial Spending

Successful budgeting begins with understanding your spending habits. First, identify where your money goes in an average month. Gather statements from your bank, credit union, or credit card providers for the past three months. List recurring items and their amounts.

2. Categorize Expenses

Next, categorize your spending as essential or nonessential. Think carefully about the difference between 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 essentials. Certain variable costs, including utilities, fall into the essential category. Nursing students should factor in school expenses like technology, books, and internet access.

3. Do the Math

For essential monthly expenses that vary in cost, average your payments over the past three months. You now have a list of financial obligations that you must meet each month. Add up the amount of essential bills, then subtract that number from your monthly income. The remaining amount determines your discretionary income.

4. Create Your Budget

The number you calculated in step three not only tells you how much income you have for discretionary spending, but also offers a glimpse of your financial health. If your discretionary income is a negative number, your expenses exceed your income. Students who rely heavily on loan funds may find themselves in this situation without realizing it, so tracking your finances is crucial. Cutting costs, even within essential expenses, may be easier than you think. Consider alternatives like living with roommates, opting for public transportation, and purchasing used electronics. Even small acts like turning off the lights when you leave a room can add up. For more ideas on saving money, see our cost-cutting tips below.


At this point, students can create an informed budget. Most financial advisors recommend the 50/20/30 rule for budgets. Under this plan, individuals use half their income for essential expenses, 20% for savings, and 30% for nonessential expenses. While few students follow this rule to the penny, 50/20/30 provides a strong foundation for budgeting in nursing school.

Maintaining Your Budget

Once you have established your budget, regularly maintain and update it. Monitoring your adherence to a budget can help you avoid financial disasters such as the inability to pay an essential bill. Particularly tight budgets, like those of many college students, 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 is especially important when it comes to variable expenses. Some expenses do not fluctuate much, but others can change significantly. The cost of heat, for example, spikes during winter in colder areas of the country. Alternatively, a new discount grocery store might lower your food bill. Regular budget review helps you spot new patterns and make adjustments when necessary. Always reassess your budget when you experience any changes to your income or spending.

Budgeting Tools

  • Left to Spend

    This app helps you control daily spending so you stick to your budget. Factoring in your income and preset budget, the screen displays a running total of your remaining discretionary income each month. The app also sets a daily spending allowance to make sure you meet budgetary goals.

  • Microsoft Excel

    Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets are made for number crunching. Many financial providers offer downloadable budget templates or online budget solutions built on these applications. Users can view basic income, total expenses, and more sophisticated tools like cash flow analysis and debt reduction planning solutions. You can edit spreadsheets to reflect your personal financial situation. Developers include tutorials on each budgeting tool.

  • Mint

    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 user-defined time periods. The graphing capability illustrates spending and income across categories and time.

  • Personal Capital

    This personal finance software offers a suite of analytics tools that can 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 may access money management advisers and other benefits.


    Simple offers online banking with no fees, free accounts, and built-in budgeting tools. Users can split funds into safe-to-spend and protected categories. Simples advanced spending tracking makes it easy to identify patterns in your financial life.

  • Wally

    Wally is a free personal financial management app that offers highly customizable tracking options. The app also allows users to scan receipts and immediately categorize expenses, saving frequently used merchant data. While it does not link to financial providers, Wally provides an easy-to-digest snapshot of users’ adherence to their budgets.

  • YNAB

    A full-featured financial management tool, the YNAB subscription service delivers strong budget-tracking solutions. Users receive alerts when they exceed their budget for a particular category. YNAB also features detailed suggestions for budget adjustments. YNAB emphasizes proper budgeting through goals tracking, reporting, and personal coaching.

Tips for Cutting Costs in College

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 and expenditures establishes important habits that are necessary for good personal finance. Spending Tracker, Habitica, and Slice all provide excellent tracking services. As your income grows, you can also begin to 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 purchase a $10 lunch every day, you would spend $2,500 in a year on lunch alone. If you brown-bagged that same lunch, you would spend about $6.30. 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.

Use Student Discounts

Being a college student comes with its own perks. You can take advantage of several different student discounts, depending on your school and the 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.

Find Cheap Textbooks

Textbooks can cost an absurd amount of money, and prices vary from one semester to another. However, college students absolutely need all textbooks for their classes. Before you purchase books at the campus bookstore, consider alternatives like renting textbooks or purchasing them online. Some schools offer a limited number of used textbooks, and students can also search for used bookstores off campus. Other students download ebooks or PDF books at lower cost. Sites like StudentRate Textbook promise discounted offerings.

Graduate Earlier

While graduating from college early is no small endeavor, students can save a significant amount of money by doing so. 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 students to begin earning a salary sooner.

Additional Resources

  • Creating Your Budget

    The Federal Student Aid office offers budgeting advice specifically for students. The site covers steps for creating and maintaining a budget and includes a glossary.

  • WiseBread

    Dedicated to living well on a small budget, this website regularly publishes tips for a frugal lifestyle. Learn to save money on food and drink, health and beauty, and entertainment.

  • Zen Habits Golden Money List

    Lifestyle blogger Leo Babauta has aggregated dozens of articles on personal finance into one list. Readers can access advice on frugal living, debt reduction, and budgeting.

  • Kiplinger

    One of the oldest and most trusted names in personal finance, Kiplinger offers investment advice, tips on saving money, and guides on smart spending.

  • Budget Template for New Grads

    Frugal Rules, a debt reduction and personal financial management site, offers budgeting strategies and advice specific to recent college graduates.

  • Mr. Money Mustache

    This popular and clever personal finance site delivers useful advice about frugal living, debt reduction, and wealth-building. MMM is also available as an app.

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