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Budgeting for Students with Autism and Learning Differences (Plus Helpful Tips for Parents)


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Keeping track of expenses can be hard for just about anyone. Money management skills don’t come easy and often times students learn the hard way that it’s more important to buy groceries than to spend money on the latest fashion or video games. Prioritizing isn’t a new concept, but it can be a difficult concept to grasp for college-aged students who haven’t had a chance to live on their own and really make that dollar stretch during this rite-of-passage moment in their lives.

Many students who come to CIP have never lived on their own, which makes moving in with a roommate an exciting experience. Students tend to bond during social activities, like outings to the mall, movie screenings, bowling, and eating out at restaurants. But all of these activities come at a cost, and sometimes, our students tend to run out of money a little too quickly as they overspend to match their excitement, leaving them with little to no money left for essentials like groceries.

How do we fix this monumental problem?

Gains & Losses 

In CIP's advising department we have used many different types of budgeting tools to help our students learn how to manage and maintain their monthly budgets. One thing to remember: progress can often be slow and frustrating but the students do learn the concept of money management through losses and gains.

For instance, one week the student may do poorly with their budget and may not have enough money for a fun weekend activity. The loss there is that the student won’t be able to enjoy a fun activity for that weekend because they went over budget. When the student challenges himself the following week and finally saves enough money for that fun activity, then they have experienced a gain.

Below, you will find tips for parents and a few of the tools we have used with our students that have been successful. 

5 Tips for Parents

  1. Allow your son or daughter to fail. It isn’t easy to see them fail, but this will make the learning process much easier for them and the advisor.
  2. Don’t replenish their bank account on command. Let your son or daughter figure this out with their support team. They will need to budget better next time.
  3. Trust in the process. Results will come. Be patient. Real life learning takes time.
  4. Let go of worst case scenarios. Let the experts coach and challenge your son or daughter with their finances. That’s why they are experts.
  5. Show your support. Allow for this transition to occur in your mind and demonstrate with your actions. They are going from childhood to adulthood. You are providing for them financially now, but the goal is that they will eventually become self-supporting.

Top 5 Budgeting Tools

  1. Mint - Students who use this website and mobile app do really well because the website categorizes all expenses for them. It does require some manual input, but not much. Students who are tech savvy do well with this app.
  2. Everydollar.com - This is a fee-based subscription website, but we mainly use the free version with our students. This is a manual online budget tracker that provides charts with debits and credits.
  3. Excel Spreadsheet - Students have used this standard budgeting tracker or have created their own to visually track their expenses by using their bank transactions history and receipts.
  4. Envelope System - Keep cash for specific expenses in separate envelopes (eg. groceries, entertainment, bills). This has been very successful with students who tend to use their debit card too often and may experience overdrafts. This is great for students who have only used their debit cards and have a limited concept of money. 
  5. Bank Budgeting Tool - Some banks have built in budgeting tools that are very helpful because they use the information they already have from current bank transactions and break it down into categories.

Here is an example budgeting sheet that we use at CIP Long Beach.

Click here to Download the Template


About the Author

Rosa Portillo is a Student Advisor at CIP Long Beach. She graduated from California State University, Long Beach in 2015 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and is currently applying to graduate programs for Social Work.


About CIP

CIP's full-year postsecondary programs offer individualized college academic, social, career and life skills support for young adults with Autism, ADHD and other Learning Differences. Learn more...

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