Living on a Shoestring Budget

Posted: February 21, 2024 | Author: Madelyn Bushman | Read Time: 3 minutes

Two students sit at a picnic table

Recently, a student at SUU wanted to find out if it was financially possible to pursue school full-time and not work. He intended to live off of financial aid (Pell Grants) and federal student loans. However, he was reluctant to acquire additional loans particularly because he knew that unsubsidized loans start accruing interest immediately. This prompted him to seek advice in hopes of finding the most suitable budget for his plan.

Christopher Dimond, SUU’s Online & Graduate Financial Aid Coordinator, taught him about a “shoestring budget.” A shoestring budget aligned perfectly with his criteria since it emphasizes the importance of not borrowing more money than you need.

What is a shoestring budget?

A shoestring budget is used when money is tight and will limit your spending to the lowest possible amount each month.

The rules for living on a shoestring budget are simple:

    1. Do not borrow more money than you need.
    2. Prioritize your expenses.
      1. PHYSICAL NEEDS: for physical survival (rent, groceries, transportation)
      2. EDUCATION NEEDS: for school priorities/success (internet, textbooks, etc.)
      3. WANTS: anything extra
    3. Calculate your needs for an entire semester/year.
    4. Compare your needs amount to your FAFSA amount. Your award MUST exceed the amount to cover your needs for the semester.
      1. With whatever is left over after allocating for all your needs and expenses,
        1. Put 70-80% in your savings account for surprises and emergencies (like auto repairs).
        2. Allocate 20% for quality of life (going out to dinner, entertainment, gifts, etc.). It is unrealistic to cut out all fun spending.


You will first want to lay out the ways you can economize your life. This means getting rid of the “fluffy stuff” that makes life fun, yet is not necessary to live.

  1. Drop internet service. You can get wifi on campus and study at the library, or visit businesses that offer free wifi.
  2. Drop subscriptions (except for ones that are needed for school).
  3. Transportation: walk, bike, carpool, public transportation.
    1. Drop auto payments if possible (no payment, gas, insurance, maintenance). Even an occasional Uber or taxi will be less expensive than owning a vehicle.
  4. Groceries: Eliminate your food waste, collect coupons and utilize charitable food options.
    1. SUU’s Hope Pantry - take what you need, and donate when you can.
    2. Food pantries at community churches & charitable organizations.
    3. Grocery stores and other food places may discard unsold food (like baked goods) at the end of the day.
    4. Events with free refreshments.

Ways to BRING IN more money:

Then, you will outline various methods to potentially increase your income, focusing on options that won’t interfere with your academic commitments.

  1. Inquire about scholarships.
  2. Donate plasma.
  3. Find a job (if you are open to work) at an organization that offers tuition reimbursement/benefits.
    1. Healthcare
    2. Grocery stores (Natural Grocers, Walmart)
    3. Restaurants are touting education benefits in attempts to attract workers, and may even include meal benefits (McDonald’s, Jack in the Box, Chipotle, etc.)
    4. Amazon, Best Buy, Apple, FedEx, UPS, GEICO, Home Depot, Starbucks
    5. The university you wish to attend. (For example, full-time employees at SUU receive tuition waivers for themselves and their spouses.)

Shoestring Budget Template

Use this Budget Template to create your own budget using the shoestring method.

Be sure to “Make a Copy” of this spreadsheet so you can edit it with your own information.

Need Help?

Contact SUU’s Financial Wellness Center where you can schedule an appointment with financial counselors. Some available services include one-on-one financial counseling sessions, budgeting and financial goal setting, counseling on dealing with debt, support coaching on private scholarship search and applications, etc.

You can also contact Christopher Dimond, SUU’s Online & Graduate Financial Aid Coordinator, who created the Shoestring Budget template.

Tags: CurStu Financial Wellness SUU Online

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