How to budget at university
Work out your living costs
If you’re going to manage your money effectively at university, the first thing you need to do is work out exactly where your money’s going.
Start by working out exactly how much money you’ll have to spend – the money which will be going into your account. Take into account:
- Your student loan
- Bursaries and grants (if you’re entitled to these)
- Money from parents or your family
- Any income from a part-time job you have
- Savings or investments you’ll use to fund your degree
Then, draw up a list of everything you’ll need to spend money on, including:
- Tuition fees
- Rent and bills
- Travel costs
- Food and drink
- Books and items needed for your course
What to do if you need to spend more than you have
This is a common problem for several students – even people who are naturally skilled at budgeting. If you find that your outgoings are much bigger than the money you have coming in, there are some ways to supplement your income.
- Get a second job. If your degree won’t suffer and you have the spare time, consider taking on a part-time job to make some extra cash. Lots of students work in the Student Union, or in local pubs, bars, supermarkets or cafes.
- Check to see if there are any support staff at your university who can help you. Many universities have a student money adviser who can help you start to plan a budget or prioritise.
- Look at your expenses and work out where your money’s going. Are you always in an Uber, or ordering takeaways you don’t need? Work out where your money’s going and where you can afford to stop spending unnecessarily.
- If you need to borrow money, shop around for a loan or a credit card with an authorised, interest-free overdraft. Many student bank accounts come with credit card offers, but speak to someone you trust before you apply for any extra credit cards. It’s wise to only ever borrow what you need – and what you can afford to repay.
Working part-time while you’re at universities
If you’re looking for work at university, try to start jobhunting as soon as possible – competition among students is likely to be stiff.
Lots of students enjoy working part-time as it helps them meet new people and make much-needed extra cash – however, don’t let your coursework suffer. Feedback from students is mixed, but some say that part-time work can have a negative impact on academic performance.
Easy ways to save money and avoid overspending at university
It’s important that you enjoy your time at university and don’t spend your time penny pinching, but if you want to stay on top of your finances, here are some easy ways to cut costs:
- Use your NUS discount where you can. Students can enjoy money off holidays, shopping, meals out and entertainment
- Save on your travel costs by getting a 16-25 Railcard. Students can also save one-third on coach travel, and if you’re living in London, you can get a Student Oyster Photocard to save 30% on travel costs.
- Invest in some student cookbooks and learn to cook – it’s much cheaper, and healthier, than depending on takeaways every night
- If you need books and equipment for your course, try and find them second hand or use your university library. Don’t forget that printing in black and white is far cheaper than colour
- Plan your food shopping and find a local low-cost supermarket. You could even start eating with housemates and share the cost of food between you
- Going out doesn’t have to be expensive – always check your student union to see what’s on. Several unions don’t just offer cheap beer – they also run cinema and quiz nights, as well as nights out
Student finance, maintenance loans and grants
Depending on your individual circumstances, you may be entitled to extra money to help with your living costs while you’re at university. This extra money – which comes in the form of bursaries or grants – doesn’t have to be repaid, but you’ll only receive them if you meet certain criteria.
Your student loan will be determined based upon where you live, and the location of your university or college. For example, students studying in London will receive more than people studying in a cheaper area.
Money mistakes to avoid making at university
If you’re living away from home for the first time, it can be easy to overspend and lose sight of your finances. Here are some key rules to try and remember:
- Don’t sign up for every credit card you’re offered – if you need a credit card, be selective and pick the one with the best rate. Talk it through with your parents or a trusted friend of you need a second opinion
- Avoid expensive shopping sprees and nights out – even if you’re keen to impress and meet lots of new people
- If a taxi home after a night out is looking expensive, suggest splitting the cost of the fare with your friends
- Avoid spending £20 every night on a takeaway – your wallet and your waistline will thank you
- Don’t go food shopping when you’re hungry
- Avoid dipping into your overdraft, if you can – it’s not free money
- Don’t use a contactless card on nights out – take out the cash you know you can spend (including emergency taxi fare) and leave your card at home. Avoid buying rounds if you can – nobody will think any less of you
- Track your spending every few days – most banks now have apps which will let you see what you’re spending your money on
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