Budgeting Tips for High School Students

Posted on December 11 2020

A student sits at a desk and looks at her checkbook.

High school students have a wide range of expenses, from school supplies to social activities. On school supplies alone, the average high school student spends hundreds of dollars per year. After adding in the price of extracurricular activities, sports and field trips, this number can easily double. The average annual cost of school supplies and related fees for high school students is about $1,668, according to the Huntington Backpack Index. Add to that the cost of transportation, lunches and new clothes, plus spending money to go out to the movies or share a meal with friends, and this figure can become even larger. 

This extensive list of costs illustrates why budgeting for high school students is so important, especially for individuals with limited finances and those saving for college. Learning to budget money is a life skill that will benefit both high school students who are supporting themselves and students whose parents finance the majority of their expenses. 

Budgeting is also important for students with ambitious educational priorities, such as those working to finish their high school education early through an online program such as The American Academy’s individual courses. Understanding how to create and manage a budget enables high school students to cover their costs and prepare for college, where personal finance becomes a greater responsibility. 

Expenses for Students in High School

Public schools may offer a more economical option than private schools, but they’re not completely free. From the price of a backpack to the fee for joining the track team, public schools require students to pay a number of expenses. The costs of attending public school can be high, even in the absence of tuition. Some of the expenses of attending high school include the following:

Mandatory Charges

Public schools across the country have started collecting mandatory fees to make up for budget cuts and help with purchases of school supplies and books. Examples of mandatory charges include the following:

  • Advanced Placement (AP) class fees
  • Annual registration and enrollment payments
  • Technology fees 
  • Textbook fees
  • Field trip costs

School Supplies

In the past, school supplies were much more straightforward. Today, students are responsible for providing a lot more than No. 2 pencils and spiral notebooks. Here are some common necessities for high school students today:

  • Laptops or tablets, such as Chromebooks or iPads
  • Specific software programs to access school assignments
  • Textbooks
  • PE uniforms
  • General supplies such as binders, notebooks, pens, and pencils
  • Backpacks 

Extracurricular Activities and Personal Expenses   

After-school activities can add hundreds of dollars to high school expenses. These extracurriculars range from organized sports activities, such as playing on the softball team, to attending the movies with friends. Here are some activities that require additional spending:

  • Joining a school sports team, including the cost of equipment and uniforms
  • Participating in clubs, such as drama or debate
  • Signing up for college preparatory classes and testing
  • Purchasing new clothes
  • Going out with friends to concerts, movies and restaurants
  • Buying tickets to school events, such as football games and formal dances


Transportation can be another large expense for high school students. While buses historically provide an economical option for students, some schools now charge more than $500 a year for students to use their bus service. The Poway Unified School District in San Diego charges an annual fee of $575 per student, and families with three or more children will pay a maximum of $1,437. Public transportation offers another alternative, but this can be costly and time-consuming. Driving to and from school is an option for some students, but the price of gas, parking fees, car insurance and maintenance services — not to mention the price of a vehicle — make this the most expensive mode of transportation. 

Budgeting for High School Students: Create a Budget, Make Goals, Start Saving

Even when parents or guardians pay for most expenses, all students can benefit from learning good budgeting skills. These capabilities are even more important for students paying their own way. Budgeting for high school students requires skills — patience, organization and commitment — that transfer to many other important life tasks. By applying these skills to the following steps, students can start taking control of their finances:

  • Create a weekly budget. A weekly budget should include required expenses, such as transportation costs and groceries, along with a set amount dedicated to fun activities, such as shopping or going out to eat.
  • Create a monthly budget. Use a monthly budget to calculate your monthly bills, including cellphone and internet bills, car payments, auto insurance and any recurring school-related expenses. 
  • Establish goals and prioritize spending accordingly. Once your budgets are in place, the next step is to analyze your spending and determine your financial goals. At this point, you might decide to adjust the figures in your weekly budget to support your goals. For instance, if you want to pay off your car faster, you might limit your other spending to increase your monthly car payments.  
  • Set up a bank account. Establish checking and savings accounts. Think of your savings account as a college fund or a fund for another major goal. If possible, set up automatic monthly transfers into your savings account. Otherwise, contribute as much as your budget allows.   
  • Consider getting a credit card. Getting a credit card is the first step to establishing your credit, which enables major purchases later in life. Keep in mind that interest rates for first time cardholders are high, so make sure you pay off your card in full each month to avoid racking up interest payments. A good rule of thumb is to never spend more money on your credit card than you have in your bank account.
  • Set aside an emergency fund of $500-$1,000. Separate from your college fund, you should have an emergency fund for unexpected expenses such as car repairs.

The Benefits of Budgeting 

Budgeting for high school students is a critical skill that teaches students how to manage their finances while in school and installs smart spending habits that will prepare them for college and beyond. Establishing credit and growing a savings account in high school allow students to pursue many opportunities after graduation, such as getting their first apartment, buying a new car or covering tuition costs for their first year of college. Knowing how to create and follow a budget gives students a head start, putting them a step ahead of those learning to be financially independent for the first time.

For students who are already financially independent, online classes can provide the flexibility they need to balance their work schedules and maintain their financial health while continuing their education.

By learning to manage their finances in high school, all students can become financially responsible, set clear goals for the future and maintain a balanced budget.

Set Your Financial Goals and Start Achieving Them

High school is a great time to establish financial management skills. Students looking to transition to online high school should take time to research payment plans that offer low interest rates and manageable monthly payments that allow them to earn their diplomas without putting strain on their finances. In addition, pursuing an educational program that provides the flexibility to go at your own pace, such as in an online learning environment, can help students balance their studies with other responsibilities, such as work. The American Academy’s individual courses provide a comprehensive online curriculum that fits into students’ busy lives. Discover how individual courses can help high school students achieve their educational goals while developing financial independence.

Recommended Readings

How to Graduate High School Early

Organizational Tips for Successful Online Learning

How to List a High School Diploma on a Resume: Why Earning a Diploma Makes a Difference


Communities In Schools, Huntington’s 13th Annual Backpack Index Spotlights the Role of Technology in Rising Back-to-School Costs

Dough Roller, “14 Things Every High School Student Should Know About Money” 

eCampusTours.com, Budget Guide for High School Students 

Fastweb, “31 Money Saving Tricks for Students”  

MoneyTalksNews, “Our 8 Top Financial Tips for High School Grads” 

Pew Charitable Trusts, “School Districts Are Billing Students for Bus Rides”

The Balance, “Financial Planning Tips for High School Students”