Student life

10 tips for living on a student budget


As you’ll probably already know, your student loan is paid into your bank account in three instalments at the start of each semester. And we all know that when you’ve suddenly got lots of cash to splash, it can be really tempting to do so.

But hold on… before dropping all your spare cash on that new videogame you’ve been eyeing up, it might be worth getting a handle on your finances to check that you can really afford it – after all, those funds need to last all term.

It might not sound like the most exciting way to spend an evening, but budgeting your money is probably one of the most important things you need to do when you start university. Knowing how much you have to spend each week will stop your finances from getting out of hand and, more importantly, will mean you won’t be constantly worrying about money – so less stress!

To make it a little easier, we’ve pulled together a list of potential incomings and outgoings you might have at university which will help you work out what’s left for you to spend each month. You may also want to consider opening a student bank account that will give you an overdraft facility, as this can be really helpful when it comes to cash flow.

Potential income at university

  • Student loan
  • Grants, sponsorships or any scholarships you might be eligible for
  • Monthly income from parents (if any)
  • Income from any part time work

Potential outgoings at university

  • Tuition fees (if you’re an undergraduate, these should be paid directly to the university from Student Finance England)
  • Accommodation fees or monthly rent if you’re not living in university halls
  • Course supplies (books, art equipment etc.)
  • Student contents insurance or gadget insurance (unless you're already covered under your parents' home insurance policy – ask them to check with their insurance provider)
  • Utilities - gas/electricity/water
  • Mobile phone
  • Groceries / Eating out
  • Transport - rail/bus/tube/coach
  • Petrol
  • Car insurance and tax
  • Leisure (gym membership, socialising, cinema etc.)
  • Clothes

Once you’ve worked out how much you need to save each month for your outgoings and how much you have left to spend, you’ll need to keep track of your budget throughout your time at uni. There are some great apps available to help you keep on track. It’s worth taking a look at Moneysavingexpert.com which lists a range of mobile phone apps that can help you keep on budget, such as Yolt and Money Dashboard.

If you’d rather not use an app because you’re worried about security, you can find a handy student budget sheet on Save the Student which allows you to enter all your incomings and outgoings and the does the calculations for you, tracking whether you’re living within your means each month.

Here are a few more useful money-saving ideas.

10 tips for living on a student budget

1. Spend in cash

Once you’ve worked out how much spare cash you have to spend each week, take out the amount in cash and spend no more than that.

2. Is it essential?

Before buying anything, think about whether you actually need it. If you’re running out of cash and it’s not an essential, then it might be worth saving it for a special occasion (or just a month when you’re not so strapped for cash).

3. Split up your allowance

Split up your monthly allowance into different envelopes for the different areas of your budget, for example, food, travel and socialising. Only spend the amount of cash in each envelope each week.

4. Recycle

If you’ve finished with something that’s still in decent condition, why not sell if for some extra cash online? Online selling platforms such as Amazon, Ebay or Gumtree are an easy way to make some money back on your old stuff, or swap second hand clothing on sites such as Vinted to keep your wardrobe fresh without having to splash out.

5. Make stuff from scratch

If you can knit, crochet or draw, why not make the most of your talents and get creating for money? You can sell pretty much anything, from greetings cards and candles to bath bombs and jewellery. Alternatively, you don’t even need to sell the things you make to save money – making your own clothes, for example, can be a quirky and cost-effective way of revamping your wardrobe.

6. Switch bank accounts

It pays to keep an eye out for any deals or cash incentives being offered by other banks - some will even give you a cash incentive to switch. Equally, some banks offer better deals on overdrafts and interest rates for students, so do your research.

7. Save, save, save

Why not open a savings account for any surprise funds you might receive, such as birthday money, bursaries or even for those items you’ve sold on Etsy – it soon adds up, and if it’s in a separate account you’ll be less likely to dip into it.

8. Apply for your TOTUM card

TOTUM, powered by NUS Extra, offers hundreds of great deals for students, costing just £12 a year. Students can claim discounts on beauty products, eating out, fashion, travel and at certain supermarkets.

9. Be a savvy food shopper

When it comes to your weekly food shop, supermarkets are often teeming with offers and discounts that can be particularly tempting when you’re living on a student budget. However, it’s worth calculating whether these offers will actually save you money, or whether you’re just going to end up with far more food than you need.

10. Earn cashback online

If you sign up to reputable cashback sites such as Quidco and TopCashback, then you could potentially earn hundreds of pounds in cashback from thousands of retailers – including on clothing, electronics and insurance purchases.

If you’ve done everything you can to make your money last but you’re still not as financially secure as you would like, then there are still plenty of places to turn to. Most universities have hardship funds, opportunity awards and other options available if you require financial support whilst in full time education. If you’ve got a part time job, it might be worth talking to your employer – they may be able to let you have a few extra shifts in the short term to help you bolster your income. Finally, whilst you might not want your family to know that you’re struggling, it’s always good to talk to people who care about you and want to help. Even if they’re unable to help financially, two heads are always better than one and sitting down together and going through your expenses might throw up some more solutions on to save those extra pennies.

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