It may sound boring, but a budget is essential to enjoying university life.
It’ll give you control over your finances and make sure you don’t run out of money – so you can concentrate on studying and having fun.
How to create a budget
First off, you need to understand your income and outgoings. ‘Income’ simply means any money you recieve, while ‘outgoings’ means any money you spend.
As a student, your income might include:
- Maintenance loan (usually paid at the start of each term)
- Grants, bursaries, sponsorships or scholarships
- Money from your parents or other family
- Salary from a part-time job
- Savings you plan to use while at university (like earnings from a summer job)
Your outgoings are likely to include:
- Rent (including upfront costs like a tenancy deposit)
- Household bills (e.g. water, energy and internet)
- A mobile phone contract
- Food and drink
- Entertainment (e.g. cinema, clubbing)
- Personal care (e.g. haircuts)
- One-off expenses (e.g. Christmas presents)
You’ll need to record these on a spreadsheet or paper. Then it’s time for some maths: subtract your total outgoings from your total income:
- In the minuses? This means your income won’t cover your expenses. Don’t panic though – there are ways to cut costs or earn a bit extra (check out our tips below).
- Got money to spare? Great! Considering saving it for emergencies or a treat.
Next, you need to know when money will enter and leave your bank account.
This is important because expenses aren’t always spread out evenly – you’ll find that some weeks, months or terms are more expensive than others.
To make sure you don’t run out of money, you’ll need to create a spending allowance. You may want to create an allowance for each term, month and week. This can help you manage your spending on both a small and large scale.
How to cut costs at uni
Can’t get your budget to balance? We’ve got some useful tips to help you save:
- Shop around for the cheapest energy tariffs, phone contracts and accommodation
- Use sites like mySupermarket to find cheaper groceries
- Do grocery shopping in the evening when food is often discounted
- Use store loyalty cards and coupons
- Look out for free events and group deals
- Get a railcard to save a third on train tickets
- Get cheaper train tickets and flights by booking early
- Make full use of student discounts
- Buy coursebooks second-hand
- Browse freecycle.org for free household items in your area
- Instead of shopping, organise a clothes swap with friends
How to earn cash at uni
Want to boost your income? Here are some ideas for earning while you’re learning:
- Get a part-time job at a shop, restaurant or bar (all the better if you can get tips)
- Participate in market research, user testing, online surveys or mystery shopping
- Work at a summer camp during the holidays
- Advertise as a pet or baby sitter
- Got loads of followers? Ask companies to pay you for promoting their products on social media
- Find freelance work (such as writing or designing) on sites like Fiverr and Upwork
- Sell your second-hand books
- Sell second-hand items on eBay or homemade stuff on Etsy
How to track your spending
Tracking your spending can help you stick to your budget and see if it’s working. You can do this the old-fashioned way with a spreadsheet or notepad – but you might find it easier to use an app! It’s worth shopping around, but here are some options:
Yolt: uses open banking to show you an overview of your finances. You can set and track budgets for 21 categories, including things like travel, groceries and housing.
Money Dashboard: displays your spending in colourful charts and graphs, so you can see where your money’s gone at a glance.
Cleo: this AI guide can answer questions about your finances. The app works through Facebook Messenger and lets you pay friends, set spending goals and alerts.
Monzo: and of course, you can use our app to track different types of expenses, keep an eye on daily spending, put money aside and anticipate upcoming costs. For the full guide, find out more about how to budget with Monzo.
Tips for sticking to your budget
Budgets can be quickly forgotten on a night out or in the middle of exams. So we’ve put together some useful ideas for staying within your allowance:
- Don’t take cards on a night out – bring your allowance in cash instead (make sure you have a safe way to get home though).
- Plan your meals and do a big grocery shop at the start of the week or month. This can help you avoid frittering money away on food without realising it.
- Put money aside for essentials (in another bank account or a pot) so you’re less tempted to spend it on things you don’t need.
- Ask your parents to hold your money and pay you a monthly or weekly allowance.
- Say ‘no’ sometimes. It’s important to have fun at university, but that doesn’t mean you have to do everything right now!
- Consider the consequences of overspending – whether that’s living on noodles for a month, or being kicked out of accomodation for missing rent.
- If you’re not sure whether to treat yourself, wait a few weeks. If you still want it and can afford it, then go ahead.