How do you budget money for university?

A student’s guide to budgeting

Picture saying 'you're off to uni'

Congratulations! If you’re reading this article then you’ve probably been accepted into university, where a whole new, exciting chapter of your life is about to begin.

But once the celebrations have slowed down and reality has kicked in, you may want to start thinking about how you’re going to control your finances while you study.

It might seem daunting at first, particularly if this is your first taste of the real world, but with a little bit of planning ahead, you can make sure that you don’t run out of money at university.

Work out a weekly budget

The boring basics of budgeting might be the last thing you want to think about at such an exciting time in your life, but trust us, it’s pretty important.

Studies from SaveTheStudent show that 1 in 5 university students don’t budget before beginning their studies, which is why Bobatoo’s student budget planner is here to give you a head start.

Your first step should be to work out how much money you’ve got coming in and how much you’ll have going out.

Money coming in

Unfortunately, this list won’t be as long as the list for money going out. It will include things like:

  • Your student loan – paid 3 times a year at the start of each term (typically September, January and April).
  • Grants, scholarships etc. – these are only eligible for certain students, so find out if you’ll be getting one before you start budgeting.
  • Money from student jobs – this is a great way of building up a bit of spare cash, though you should always prioritise your studies.
  • Money from parents – this shouldn’t be relied on entirely, but some parents may be willing to offer you a bit of financial support. If possible, ask in advance how much they’re happy to give you so you can include it into your university budget.
  • Your overdraft – the best student bank accounts will offer you a fee-free overdraft of up to £3,000 while at university. Be sensible with this though, and don’t rely too heavily on it –otherwise, you’ll be struggling even more when it comes to paying it off and getting back into the black.

REMEMBER: Your student loan payments are meant to last you for a whole term. It may look like you have plenty to spend to begin with, but that money can soon disappear!

Read more: 5 things you need to buy before starting university

Money going out

You only have to speak to somebody who’s been to uni to understand how quickly your university expenses can rack up. Your expenditure at university will depend on your individual circumstances, but typically, it includes things like:

  • Tuition fees & supplies – these are usually paid directly from the student finance company to your university, so you probably won’t need to include this in your list anyway. You may need to pay for things like course supplies and books, though.
  • Accommodation fees – these are usually the most expensive in first year, with most students choosing to move off-site for their second and third years.
  • Household bills – budget for the basics like food and drink, but also remember that you might have to budget for things like broadband, energy bills, a TV licence and a mobile phone.
  • Travel – you may need to cover public transport costs to get you to and from university, or pay for fuel, insurance and car maintenance if you have a car.
  • Subscriptions – unless you can use somebody else’s Netflix account, you’ll probably need one! Also, consider the costs of gym memberships and other extra-curricular activities that you may want to take part in.
  • Days/nights out – some people would suggest that socialising is as important to university life as studying, so make sure to budget for nights out, cinema trips and even a bit of sightseeing if you’re in a new city.
  • Extra costs – you may need to spend a little extra now and then on anything from clothes and haircuts to a new laptop or bike.

REMEMBER: Your first few weeks at university are likely to be more expensive as you’ll have to buy things like course supplies, room supplies and you’ll also enjoy going out making friends and memories during fresher’s week – make sure you budget for this and don’t end up short later in the month!

A student getting money out of an ATM machine

UK student bank accounts

If you haven’t already, you’re going to need to set yourself up with a student bank account.

Student bank accounts are aimed specifically at (you guessed it) students, with most of them offering an interest-free overdraft for when you really need an extra bit of cash. It’s important to remember that while dipping into your overdraft is free on a short-term basis, you still have to pay it back.

Some student bank accounts come with added benefits such as interest paid on your in-credit current account, a free railcard, Amazon gift cards or discounts at shops and restaurants, so be sure to shop around to get yourself the best student bank account for your needs.

How to decorate your uni room on a budget

Decorate your uni room on a budget with these bargains on Amazon:

  • Fairy lights – a popular, cheap way to brighten up your living quarters
  • Washi tape – add some colour to your walls and stick up your revision notes with this tape
  • Bright bedding – you’ll need bedding regardless, so why not make it part of your décor?

If you’re wondering what to take to uni, talk to friends or family who have been previously and see what they say, or make a university checklist like this:

- For your room - Duvet, pillows, clothes hangers, laundry basket
- For the bathroom - Toothbrush, toothpaste, towels, medication, deodorant
- Electricals - Laptop, tablet, headphones, chargers
- For the kitchen - Saucepan, frying pan, bottle opener, scissors, cutlery, micowavable bowls
- Paperwork - Passport, course acceptance letter, NHS card, insurance documents, debit card
- Clothes - Coat, sports gear, clothes for hot and cold weather, clothes for part-time work

Remember that your accommodation may provide some of the things listed above for you - you can find out what'll be included by contacting your university.

How to manage your university budget

It’s all well and good working out your university budget at the beginning of the year, but the truth is that circumstances can change and so can your budget.

The best way of keeping on top of your expenditure at university is by using a student budget planner like the one featured by SaveTheStudent.

Alternatively, there is also a range of smartphone apps designed to help you manage your budget, such as MoneyBox, Money Dashboard and Mint.

Find out more: Bobatoo’s guide to the best online money management apps

You could also consider making your own budgeting spreadsheet using your phone or laptop, including your incomings, outgoings and the amount of money you’ll have left over at the end of the week.

Managing your university budget doesn’t have to be painful. As long as you know where you stand with your money and have budgeted for your uni essentials, budgeting can not only be easy but really rewarding, too.

How to make money at uni

Student jobs are one of the best ways of earning a little bit of money on the side of your studies. It is true that you’re unlikely to get the job of your dreams alongside studying at university, but there are still plenty of options out there when looking for student jobs. These include:

  • Working for the uni – some universities will advertise jobs around campus, such as working in an on-campus shop, library or café. Older students can also be paid to give tours of the university to potential students and their parents.
  • Tutoring – you’ll need to pass a DBS check if tutoring anybody under the age of 18, but it’s a great way of earning a bit of cash on the side.
  • Barista work – big-name coffee shops are always on the lookout for part-time staff, so pop your CV into your local cafés!
  • Christmas temp jobs – large retailers always take on more staff over the Christmas period with some hiring as early as August. If you’re lucky, you may even be kept on in the New Year!

Cashback sites

You could also take advantage of online reward sites like OhMyDosh20 Cogs and Quidco. Cashback sites like these allow you to earn a bit of cash on the side, as well as receive discounts for various products and companies.

To earn money, you need to do things like complete surveys, purchase items through them and sign up to 30-day free trials (just remember to cancel later on if you don’t want to pay for it after the initial free period). It’s not mega money, but it builds up nicely and it’s something you can easily do while taking a break from uni work!

Take advantage of student discounts

One of the huge benefits of being a university student is that you can get discounts from hundreds of retailers, restaurants and more!

The best way to find out where your discount applies is by signing up to the free and popular Unidays or StudentBeans services with your institution email address, where you will find discounts on everything from pizza and designer sunglasses to insurance policies and mobile phone bills.

You can even get student discount on products not featured on Unidays or StudentBeans, simply ask at the checkout whilst paying if they accept student discount – if you don’t ask, you don’t get!

You could also pay a fee for a Totum card (previously NHS Extra), which gives you access to even more exclusive student discounts and can be bought at a discounted price when you choose a 3-year card.

REMEMBER: Most university students get access to a free Microsoft Office subscription, so don’t worry about buying it before you start. Simply search the internet for your university and add ‘Microsoft Office’ and you should be able to find a download link.

For example: Cardiff Uni Microsoft Office

Students eating pizza

I need help with my money – where can I turn?

You should never be embarrassed to talk about your money struggles while you’re at uni. The truth is, it’s an expensive time in your life and nearly everybody around you is in the same boat.

Whether you’re worried about your debt or just need a bit of financial guidance, there are a few places you can go for help:

Your university – Many universities will have an expert on hand to discuss your finances with you. Most also offer hardship funding for those who need it and have emergency options in place if you become desperate.

Forums – Believe it or not, you can find some helpful advice on student forums like The Student Room. Their site is full of students past and present who have a wealth of experience in navigating through life at uni.

Your employer – If you’ve bagged yourself a part-time job while at uni then it might be worth asking your employer if there is any overtime available. Not only will this give you a larger income, but while you’re at work, you’re unlikely to be spending money that you don’t have!

Your family – Even if they cannot offer you financial support, you should talk to your family about your financial struggles. They can offer you the emotional support that you need and can help you to re-evaluate your future spending.