How to make the most of a uni student budget

Expert tips to stretch those pennies further

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How to make the most of a uni student budget

When it comes to university, it’s not just lectures and essays that can prove to be a bit of a headscratcher. The student budget needs some careful thought, too.

‘Having a very basic understanding of what funds are coming in and what money is going out is a great start to a budget’

Though blowing funds early on and living off a diet of baked beans for the rest of the term has become a student stereotype, that doesn’t need to be the fate of all freshers.

Nor do your finances need to spiral into mounting debt.

With a little strategic planning, the student budget can stretch far further than you might expect. You just need a little insider knowledge.

Which is exactly why we’ve sought out the best advice from budgeting experts, to help students everywhere manage their money. Cue our Student Budgeting 101; the most important class you’ll take all year.

1. Drill down your weekly spend

With your bank account looking flush after the arrival of your student loan, it can be tempting to overspend in the early weeks, only to find yourself strapped for cash later. A weekly budget can help avoid this.

‘Because Student Loans and Bursaries are normally paid in three instalments over the academic year, creating a weekly budget can be fairly straight forward,’ says Robert Fowler, Student Money, Advice and Rights Team (SMART) Co-ordinator at University of Derby.

Here's an example of how to drill down your budget:

‘Remember that the weekly amount of £108.15 has to cover all living costs (food, clothes, bills, travel, books etc). It is expected that students will spend more in the first few weeks, as they settle in and adjust to living on their own,’ adds Robert.

‘Having a very basic understanding of what funds are coming in and what money is going out is a great start to a budget. It doesn’t have to be complicated.’

If you’re struggling to drill down the budget, online tools such as the UCAS Budget Calculator can help.

2. Choose your bank account carefully

From discounted rail travel to interest free overdrafts that can offer a safety net, lots of banks offer enticing perks in a bid to win you over. But don’t commit too soon, as it’ll pay to look past the freebies and assess which account is really best for you.

‘Banks are keen to get their hands on students as customers. As a result, they tend to offer a number of perks with student accounts, most commonly a 16-25 railcard,’ explain the experts at The Money Advice Service. ‘If you travel by train a lot this can help you save money over the course of your studies, but it’s important to not get sucked in by tempting offers and freebies that you’re not going to make the most of, and to ensure that you choose the account that’s right for you.’

‘Some student accounts allow overdrafts of up to £3,000 completely interest free. This means you don’t have to pay interest on anything within the authorised overdraft limit while you are a student. But remember this isn’t free money: after you graduate you still have to repay what you borrow.’

A banking app which can help you keep track of your money on the go is a great idea too, so you can monitor how well you're keeping to the weekly budget.

3. Shop smart

From taking advantage of student discounts using your NUS card to finding the deals that’ll save you money, shopping smart is essential. Try these top tips from Martin Upton, Senior Lecturer in Finance at Open University Business School.

  • Convenience equals cost – Your local shop may not be the cheapest, so bear that in mind when doing  food shop. Home delivery can save you cash, but make the orders big to take advantage of bulk deals - if you have a freezer, you can save by buying in bulk for an entire term.
  • Travel wisely – Get a student rail card, book your tickets ahead of time to avoid higher late booking fees, and consider taking the bus or coach over the train.
  • Books can be expensive – Borrow from the library, share with a classmate or buy them second-hand (seek out students who studied modules previously – they may want to sell used books, as can you when you’re finished using them). Departments often offer second-hand sales too.
  • Remember that small things add up - One coffee a day at a branded outlet costs in the region of £600 for a university year of 28 weeks. That’s the cost of a holiday!


4. Learn how to cook

Robert Fowler at SMART notes the money-saving power of being able to cook your own meals, and knowing how to be resourceful when it comes to kitchen supplies.

‘Even mastering a basic pasta meal can save you from spending more eating out. It can cost as little as a few pence,’ he explains. ‘Avoid takeaways where possible, spending £15 to £20 on one single meal is too much.’

See our brilliant recipe archive for lots of quick, tasty (and easy to make) meals!