A student’s guide to budgeting
Money is notoriously tight for students, even when student finance is taken into account. Young adults find themselves surrounded by new friends and a whole host of things to do, so it can be tough to keep on top of funds.
Learning to plan ahead and limiting unnecessary spending is well worth the effort as you won’t want to end up halfway through the term unable to buy a round at the Union, living off cereal and staying home when everyone else is out having a good time. Here are a few tips for well organised and successful budgeting.
Work out weekly spending
At the start of the year, take some time to write a list of all the expenses you expect to pay for. This can be divided and organised on a weekly basis that makes it easier to work towards and monitor. It will also be an ideal opportunity to think realistically about what you’ll be spending money on. Aside from the obvious costs of rent and food, it’s easier to forget or underestimate how much other expenses like coffee breaks, printing, mobile bills and tooth paste purchases really add up to. With a rough weekly average budget worked out against your expected income, you can keep tabs on where you should be and cut back or relax accordingly.
Divide essentials and luxuries
One of the most important budgeting steps you can take is to separate your essentials and leave anything left over for treats and impulse buys. Some people look into setting up two accounts to make this even easier to achieve – one for the basics (rent, food, travel) that you don’t touch for other purchases, and another that you can fill with surplus funds for fun things like cinema trips and nights out.
Look out for discounts and freebies
There are lots of discount schemes available only to students, so seek them out. You’ll come across everything from special offer haircuts to money off vouchers and student deals in restaurants and bars. NUS Extra cards will get you some deals at high street retailers, and student websites like MyUniDays and StudentBeans are worth a look for discounts and up-to-date national and regional offers aimed at young people. Travel can also carry big price tags, so if you’re likely to use a lot of public transport, investigate bus cards and the 16-25 Railcard from National Rail.
Compare grocery prices
Make use of price comparison services and browse different supermarkets yourself to find the best deals on your favourite essentials. Swap brands for supermarket-own products where you can, and always seek out special offers. These may seem like minimal savings, but over the course of an academic year they can account to significant extra pounds for you to spend elsewhere.
Buying lunch on campus or in town is convenient and requires no preparation, but it’s an expensive habit. Going for a packed lunch will save you more than a few pounds every week – in both senses of the word. Pre-packaged sandwiches are often pricey, but many are also relatively unhealthy. Give both your pocket and your health a boost by buying the ingredients at the start of the week and taking your own food supplies on the go.
If you’re still unconfident in the kitchen, now is the time to learn a few basics. Preparing your own meals from fresh ingredients is far cheaper than relying on ready meals and other pre-prepared foods. Again, there are also many potential health gains if you decide to cook yourself.
Once you’ve mastered some recipes, you can embrace the magic of the freezer – by making large batches and freezing meal-sized portions, you’ll save yourself so much time and money.
Use online banking and free banking apps
In this day and age there’s little excuse for not keeping an eye on your bank balance. Online banking offers you instant access to your accounts, and it’s also really useful for making transfers or setting up regular payments without having to leave the house. Apps mean you can check in with your funds at literally any time. You can also opt for text alerts, a service offered by many banks.
Buy second hand materials
In a survey by Which?, 45% of the first year students they spoke to said they had spent more than expected on extras such as books and arts materials*. Getting hold of all the resources you’re required to have for each class can be an expensive business, so don’t just go straight to a shop and buy everything brand new. Make use of the university library and check if they have some of the books in your reading list available for rental. Sites like eBay and Amazon are great for second hand buys, and keep an eye out for university-run book sales too. Former students will want to make a little money themselves, so don’t miss out (and make sure you do the same once you’re finished with them!)
Part time work
Nearly two thirds of students are now working part time to help earn some extra cash. You shouldn’t give yourself too much to juggle, so stick to less than 15 hours a week during term time. This should bring in around £70 to £100 a week. Full-time work in the holidays can be tax-free and allow you to save up for when you head back to university. Loans for young people may also be an option if finances are particularly tight, such as those available from FreshLoan, but these options should only be considered if there is sufficient income.
The editorial unit
The material contained in this article is of the nature of general comment only and does not give advice on any particular matter. Recipients should not act on the basis of this article’s information without taking appropriate professional advice.