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Budgeting for student life

Heading off to university might be your first experience of living away from home and the first time you need to manage your own money.

Making yourself a budget can help your money go further and give you more than just baked beans to look forward to for dinner.

How to create a budget

Spending some time working out a budget can help you in the long run. You’ll be able to see your incoming money vs outgoings and if you’re likely to have anything left over. There are apps you can use to help or you can use paper and a pen.

Start by making a list of everything you have coming in and going out. 

Your income may include:

  • Your student loan
  • Any grants, bursaries, sponsorships or scholarships you're eligible for
  • Salary from a part-time job, if you have one
  • Money from parents, if they'll be contributing

Your outgoings may include:

  • Tuition fees
  • Rent for accommodation
  • Household bills such as gas, electricity, water and broadband
  • Transport costs
  • Food
  • Course materials

It’s also worth taking into account extras, including expensive periods like Christmas and holidays, as well as one-off purchases like a laptop.

The aim is to have less money going out than you have coming in. If you don’t, you may want to look at areas where you can cut back.

Make sure to include some money for the occasional treat and also anything you want to save in your budget.

Explore more: How to create a budget

Tips to reduce your outgoings

Your student loan is usually paid into your bank account at the start of each term (or monthly in Scotland), so it’s easy to feel flush when the cash comes in. But remember that money needs to last, so think about your spending.

Ways to save on food and shopping

  • Buy food in bulk and batch cook meals, then freeze what you don’t use so nothing goes to waste.
  • Instead of just food shopping for yourself, see if you can do a group shop with your housemates.
  • Look for yellow-sticker reduced items at the supermarket, or go just before closing time when the price of fresh food is often slashed.
  • Make packed lunches instead of going to the campus canteen every lunchtime.

Ways to save on course materials

  • Head to the university library to see if you can borrow the book you need – but avoid late fees if you’re taking the book out.
  • If you need to buy a book, many universities have second-hand book sales.

Ways to save on tech and appliances

  • Find out what your halls or private accommodation already has – do you really need to buy a microwave or kettle?
  • If you have your own printer, print in black and white and on both sides of the page to save on ink/paper.
  • Use reputable software for cloud storage.

Ways to save transport

  • Save a third on rail fares with the 16-25 Railcard.
  • Get 30% off coach fares with National Express Young Persons Coachcard.
  • Get 30% off travel in London with the 18+ Student Oyster Photocard. You must live at a London address in term-time to be eligible.

Don’t forget your NUS Extra card. Many retailers offer 10% discounts on everything from clothes and books to food and cinema tickets with a valid NUS card.

What next?

If you don’t already have one, opening a student bank account is an important milestone for anyone going to university. You’ll be able to set up Direct Debits for your bills and keep an eye on your spending.

Most banks offer dedicated student bank accounts that may include an interest-free arranged overdraft - it’s worth checking what happens when you reach the limit of your overdraft and if you get charged for going over this. Some student bank accounts also come with a credit card that can help pay for big-ticket items, but be careful not to overspend.

If you use mobile banking, you can check your balance on the go and receive notifications if it dips below a certain amount.

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