Background hero image for blog post: $Budget for College Student Living Off Campus Title image for blog post: Budget for College Student Living Off Campus

Shop Smart

Budget for College Student Living Off Campus

By David

June 26, 2024

Are you struggling to budget as a college student living off campus? We have a realistic budget for college students living off campus for the first time, and if you stick to it, you can save money without eating ramen for every meal. We’ll also show you why the Fetch app should be your top budgeting tool, help you weigh the costs of living on campus vs. off campus and why you should be budgeting in the first place.

Track your spending and earn free gift cards - get Fetch

Why is Budgeting Important?

Budgeting is important for college students, but it’s also a good skill for anyone who has bills to pay, whether you’re the head of the household or it’s your first year living alone. It might be easier to see why budgeting is important by looking at what can happen if you don’t budget:

  • Overdraft fees
  • Late bill fees
  • Compounded credit card interest
  • Eviction or foreclosure

Not only are there real life consequences to poor spending, many of the penalties end up costing you more money. If you’re budgeting as a college student, you could also run into trouble with your tuition bills if you don’t keep a good budget.

What is a Realistic Budget for a College Student Living Off Campus?

You know why budgeting is important, but how can you realistically budget as a college student? First: know that you’ll need to revise your budget. Second: know that you’ll probably need to cut back on some expenses. Here’s roughly how much of your income should go to your essential expenses as a college student:

  • 50% for Needs: Rent, food and bills
  • 30% for Wants: New clothes, concerts, movies and dining out
  • 20% for Savings: Put into a retirement account or pay off debts

It’s called the 50/30/20 rule, and it’s great if you’re working full-time. If you’re working part-time and focusing on studies, you might find it more realistic to budget 40% for rent and bills, 20% for food, 20% for wants and 20% for unexpected expenses.

Food Budget for College Student Living Off Campus

When grocery shopping for one, it can be easy to accidentally spend too much on smaller portions. Your food budget as a college student living off campus should involve your roommates as well. Decide on what essentials you will pay for communally, from milk to bread to toilet paper.

The Education Data Initiative reports the average grocery budget for a college student living off campus in the United States is $250. College students also tend to spend about $400 per month dining out. Every meal at home is going to give you more space in your budget. 

Between you and your roommates, you should include these staples in your food budget:

  • Pantry staples like pasta, sauces and spices
  • Bread, including tortillas and buns
  • Proteins like chicken, beef or tofu
  • Milk, cheese and other dairy products
  • Fruits and vegetables with longer shelf lives
  • Breakfast bars and other quick meals

Cost of Living Off Campus vs. On Campus

Is it cheaper to live on or off campus? 

Traditionally, living off-campus tended to be less expensive than living in the dorms, but the cost of living off campus vs. on campus has changed. Most cities have seen a substantial increase in rent in the last few years. Even still, if you know how to budget as a college student living off-campus (and you’re okay with roommates), you’ll save in an apartment. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates you could save almost $2,500 per year (that’s almost $10,000 over a four-year degree). We break down whether it’s cheaper to live on or off campus by your types of spending below.

Food Off Campus vs. on Campus

Off campus wins on food. You can get by grocery shopping for one on as little as $200 per month, but a typical meal plan will run as much as $500 per month.

Rent Off Campus vs. on Campus

Off campus wins on rent, too. Average rent for a two-bedroom is $1,300 per month, and you can split it. A public school dorm can be $1,250 to share one room.

Transportation Off Campus vs. on Campus

Living on campus means you might want a car, but you probably won’t need one. Even if you use a rideshare app to get around, you’ll probably still save on transportation by living a short walk from your classes.

Fetch Makes Budgeting for College Students Easy

Budgeting is hard for adults with full-time jobs to do, and there’s a good chance that budgeting as an off-campus college student is the first time you’ve had to think about money like this. Fetch is one of the best budgeting apps for teens and college students, because it’s easy: remember to snap your receipts and let the app do the rest. 

Ways Fetch can help college students budget

A Free Gift Card App that Actually Works

The easiest way to ensure you stick to your budget and don’t find yourself evicted or going hungry is to give yourself an incentive. Fetch is a free gift card app that actually delivers on the free gift cards, and that’s what makes it one of the best budgeting apps for college students. 

While we can’t make you stick to your budget, snapping every one of your receipts ensures you can track your spending and adjust your budget or spending as needed. Every snapped receipt turns into points, which you can turn into a gift card for dining out, video games, groceries and much more. 

Easily Track Your Spending in the Fetch App

As a college student, you’ve got to make every dollar count. So you should already be snapping receipts in the Fetch app to put toward free gift cards. If you aren’t, get on it! Once you make a habit of snapping your receipts, budgeting as a college student is as easy as:

  • Opening up the Fetch app
  • Going to the “points” tab.
  • Reviewing your monthly purchases.
  • Comparing your spending to your budget.

If you find you’re going over budget, then it’s time to make a more realistic budget and consider cutting some expenses or buying what’s on sale when you go grocery shopping. 

Shop Offers to Stick to Your Budget Without Trying

To earn the most points, you’re going to want to tailor your grocery shopping a bit: when you’re making your shopping list, do it with the “offers” tab open in your Fetch app. Here you can find ways to earn more points by buying specific products or shopping at specific stores. Treat the Fetch app offers tab like your parents treated the weekly grocery store ad.

What does checking the offers tab have to do with sticking to a budget for a college student? It means you’re making considered choices about your shopping and building good habits rather than just tossing whatever looks tasty into your shopping cart.

Get Paid for Playing Games

Now that you know the ways the Fetch app can help you save money and track your spending, you’re good to go. Of course, there are other ways to earn Fetch points than being a smart shopper: Fetch Play lets you earn points by playing games on your phone, with gamers averaging over 1,900 points a week.

So, if you have your sights on a free gift card, tap the “Play” tab in your Fetch app (which can be found by clicking on the trophy icon in the bottom menu) and get paid for playing games.

Pinterest pin for college student budgeting


Start Budgeting for Living Off Campus

We hope you have some thoughts about how to save money in college and how you can use the Fetch app to do it. Plan and track your spending in the app, make smart choices about offers and play games to work toward gift cards. Download the Fetch app now, and if you go over that budget, don’t worry: you’re using a free gift card app that actually works, so the rewards you earn can help balance it out.

Topics: Gift Cards, offers, Shopping Lists



David Fairbanks is a writer, science educator and Chicagoan fueled by coffee. He's written about everything from Ferraris to handcrafted pet urns to Superman, and he genuinely loves loyalty/rewards programs.