top of page

Ace Your College Finances: Planning for Education with Smart Budgeting Strategies

By Mrs. Shay Cook, CEO of Crusaders for Change, LLC (C4C)

Accredited Financial Counselor® & Financial Fitness Coach®

Let’s be real, college is expensive. The average cost of attending college and living on campus at a public state university in the U.S. is $104,108 over 4 years. It costs more for out-of-state students at $108,364 over 4 years, and private universities can cost over $223,000 over 4 years. And that doesn’t include the other day-to-day expenses students have!

It’s easy for a student or parent to feel overwhelmed by it all. But have hope, pause, pray, and be patient before making any big decisions. Let’s get ready to embark on a journey that will arm you with the ultimate college superpower – mastering your finances like a pro! Let’s dive deep into the world of smart budgeting strategies, uncovering the secrets to acing your college finances and prayerfully paving the way for a successful academic journey.

Let's Talk Budgeting: Your Financial Game Plan

Imagine your finances as a treasure map, leading you to a pot of gold – your dream college experience! Creating a budget is like drawing your financial game plan, helping you understand how much money is coming in and where it's going.

"The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5 ESV)

Planning carefully and thoughtfully is a principle from the Bible. It means putting effort and wisdom into making plans. On the other hand, not thinking things through before acting can cause trouble.

Developing a budget should start very simply. Start by listing your income sources, like any part-time jobs, scholarships, or support from family. Then, jot down your college expenses – tuition, books, housing, and even those late-night pizza runs (we've all been there).

Let’s use an incoming state college student as an example. They want to develop a budget to project how their first year at college will go. They’ll start by listing their income:

  • A part-time job at a coffee shop

  • $500 textbook fund per semester from their grandma

  • Scholarships (enough to cover half of their tuition costs)

  • Financial Aid

  • Summer camp counselor income

Next, they move on to listing their expenses:

  • Housing costs

  • Tuition

  • Books

  • Gas

  • Dining hall plan and groceries

  • Car maintenance

  • Internet

  • Other daily expenses (clothes, activities, school supplies)

They have a part-time job at a local coffee shop, which helps them cover some daily expenses. Their book expenses for each semester are covered by their parents. Their tuition is paid half by a scholarship, and the other half by financial aid, with some left over. Now that they have developed their budget, they need to make sure how much financial aid will be left over after paying for housing and the dining hall meal plan. They also see the need to budget for gas, groceries, and other daily living expenses. Writing it out helps us see the reality and where some adjustments will need to be made.

Unveiling the Secrets to Paying for College

Now, let's address the big elephant in the room – paying for college. Tuition fees might seem daunting, but fear not, my fellow college-bound warriors! There's a myriad of options to fund your education. Examining the different options available to you is a good time for you to take a pause and pray together with your family and support people. Patiently approach each option and make one financial decision at a time. Scholarships, grants, and student loans are a few of the tools in your financial toolbox that are good to start with.


When applying to college, apply for every scholarship you can find, from quirky ones like "best sandwich recipe" to scholarships based on academic honors. Your dedication could pay off big – I’ve seen students secure multiple scholarships that made their college dreams affordable! Websites like Fastweb,, and CollegeBoard can help you find scholarships and grants tailored to your interests, field of study, or background. Some faith-based organizations also provide scholarships.

Accredited Financial Counselors® are a great resource for finding creative ways to develop a budget or spending plan that can help a family find extra funds to pay for college and/or college expenses. We’re here to help you and your family navigate and plan for expenses during your college journey! Book your free clarity call here.


Finding college grants can be a game-changer in making higher education more affordable. Here are some excellent places to start your search and learn more about available grants:

  • Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is crucial, as it allows you to apply for federal grants, work-study opportunities, and loans. FAFSA is available online, and many colleges use it to determine eligibility for their own institutional grants.

  • This is the official website of the U.S. government where you can find and apply for various federal grants. It provides a centralized database of grants offered by different federal agencies.

  • College Financial Aid Office: Your college's financial aid office is an invaluable resource. They can guide you through the grant application process, inform you about institutional grants, and help you explore external grant opportunities.

  • State Grant Agencies: Each state has its own grant programs for residents pursuing higher education. Check your state's higher education agency website to learn about available grants.

  • Professional Associations and Organizations: Some associations and organizations offer grants to students pursuing specific fields of study. Check with relevant professional groups related to your intended major or career path.

  • Community Foundations: Many communities have local foundations that provide grants and scholarships to students in the area. Research local foundations or community organizations for potential opportunities.

  • Employer or Parent's Employer: Some companies offer educational assistance programs for employees or their dependents. Check with your employer or your parent's employer to see if they offer these benefits.

  • Nonprofit Organizations: Various nonprofit organizations and charities offer grants and scholarships to support education. Look for organizations aligned with your interests or background.

When searching for college grants, be sure to carefully review the eligibility requirements, application deadlines, and any additional documents needed. Each grant may have specific criteria, so tailor your applications accordingly. Remember, persistence and thoroughness in your search can lead to big payoffs in financial support for your education!

The Art of Student Loans: Borrow Wisely

Ah, student loans – the double-edged sword of college financing. They can be a lifeline when used wisely, but a stone around your neck if you're not careful. When considering student loans, remember to borrow only what you need and explore federal options before private ones. Interest rates and repayment terms matter, so pause, pray, seek wisdom, and choose wisely! Not all debt goes against biblical principles or ethical standards. Some debt may be necessary and help you achieve your goals. It's a heart matter to prayerfully examine our mindset and values when approaching healthy financial lending.

There are two primary types of student loans: federal loans and private loans. Federal loans, obtained by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), often offer better terms and more borrower protections than private loans. It's crucial to borrow wisely and only take out what is truly needed to avoid excessive debt. Federal loans also provide flexible repayment options, including income-driven plans, which base payments on your income after graduation.

Federal loans are generally more favorable, offering various repayment options and potential forgiveness for certain public service careers. On the other hand, private loans come with different interest rates and terms and may not offer the same borrower protections. It's crucial to compare loan offers, read the terms carefully, and ensure you or your child are borrowing responsibly. Review your budget, loan options, and other funding sources with an Accredited Financial Counselor® to make sure you understand the loan options, as well as the future income potential and the affordability of loan payments after graduation. By staying informed and making wise decisions, you or your parent can use student loans as a helpful tool to invest in higher education and future success.

After graduation, set a clear repayment plan in place ahead of time and stick to it diligently. Make a plan to be debt-free as soon as you are able.

Work Hard, Save Smart: Embrace the Side Hustle

You know what they say – work hard, play hard! Embrace the side hustle to supplement your income and build a financial safety net (this means you should be putting money aside in a savings account for unexpected costs that can come up). Babysitting, tutoring, or even affiliate marketing on your social media can pad your pockets while keeping your budget in check. A side hustle could not only fund your weekend adventures, but it could also ignite your entrepreneurial spirit. Reach out to your support system and ask them to pray for you as you seek God’s blessing and take on new work.

Parents: Seek Financial Wisdom. Financial Counselors to the Rescue!

When navigating the financial maze of college life, remember you're not alone! Seek guidance BEFORE the start of the college journey from Accredited Financial Counselors® like our team at Crusaders for Change. We're here to empower you with healthy financial habits, budgeting knowledge, tools, and resources to triumph over the many financial hurdles of higher education.

My passion for helping people, especially with personal finances, led me to become an Accredited Financial Counselor®. In today's world, where spiritual battles manifest through various avenues, financial struggles have the potential to damage marriages, disrupt families, and even pave the way for harmful behaviors like addiction and self-inflicted pain. I encourage you to embrace wisdom and align your life with the guidance provided by the Word of God. When I see families like yours making informed decisions and achieving financial success, my heart leaps for joy. Book your free clarity call with us here.

So college-bound champions, let's ace your college finances together! Armed with smart budgeting strategies, funding secrets, and the wisdom of financial counseling expertise, your college experience will be a blast. Embrace your financial superpower and embark on a journey that leads to success, both academically and financially. Remember, we’re here to cheer you on every step of the way!


bottom of page