Students planning out nontraditional budget

How to deal with irregular paychecks

I have a confession: I don’t think budgeting is all that great. It’s such a small part of the financial planning picture, but it gets all of the attention. I don’t see it as the big solution to money problems, but as a piece of the full puzzle. I think the focus should be on creating a financial plan that includes a budget that fits your lifestyle, a spending tracker (check out these apps) and a smart savings plan.

All of the advice I’m sharing with you is based on my personal experience as an ASU student, trying to make and save money, not from a textbook. I understand how challenging it can be to create and stick to a financial plan while you’re in college, and I hope I can help make it easier for you.

The anti-budget

Many students have jobs that pay based on commission, through stipends or are supplemented by tips. I bussed tables for a couple of years (tips), and I’m now transitioning to real estate and financial advising (commission), so I’ve experienced all kinds of pay structures.

The question I hear the most from other students is: “how can you create a budget if you don’t know exactly how much you’ll bring in each month?” I always answer by saying that you can’t — at least not a traditional budget. But you can create a financial plan that works with your fluctuating income.

Start here

You’ll save yourself so much stress if you cut back on spending until you have saved at least one month of expenses. This will give you a financial safety net to help you stay afloat during slower seasons and will help you make realistic savings goals based on how much you need to have on hand.

Make a plan

I suggest building your financial plan in an Excel or Google Sheets document (that’s what I do). It will take some time to get it right, but it’s so worth it. Here’s an instructable that will help you get started building your financial plan in Excel. If you want to learn more about how to allocate and plan your monthly expenses, check out this iGrad course.  

Stick to it

Once you have a financial plan, the next step is evaluating how well you are sticking to it. This means checking in monthly and making sure you’re still on track. With an income that fluctuates, you’ll be able to save more money some months and less during others — that’s okay! Just be sure you always have those savings I mentioned earlier and that you’re adding to them when you have a busy or more successful month and earn additional income.

I hope this series has been as helpful to you as it has been fun for me. Check out finding financial security, finding a job in college and credit cards in college.

Post contributor: Aubrey Durham


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