Learning how to properly manage and budget your funds can be a difficult task, especially if you don’t know what to expect in terms of expenses during your very first term.
Budgeting at university is definitely a learning process and you’ll make mistakes every now and then but it’s not impossible to financially survive your University years as long as you have a good budget plan in place and you stick to it.
Many first-year students are surprised by the high costs that they face once they’ve started university and often times these costs exceed the initial expectations that students have when planning their finances for each term.
The best way to stay on top of your student expenses is to keep up to speed with the current prices for different items and services in the area in which you are going to study and budget accordingly.
Living costs such as rent and utilities can vary from one area to another and each university, as well as each speciality, will require a different set of course materials and supplies.
Living costs can also change depending on your living conditions: costs associated with off-campus rent will be different than the costs for on-campus accommodations and the type of university dormitory you choose will also affect the price you have to pay for it.
Utilities, food, and entertainment will cost more in certain areas so make sure to do your research in advance about the average prices for your university so that you can get an accurate estimate of what your overall costs will be.
How to Make an Annual Budget
The first thing to do when planning your annual budget is to estimate what your annual income will be at university. This includes tuition and maintenance loans, scholarships as well as any savings or additional funds you intend to use during your time there.
Estimate what your expenditure will be for the year and compare the sums: ideally you’ll be left with some money after deducting all of your expected costs from your total annual budget or these costs will at least be covered by your budget.
Start to calculate your costs by adding up your monthly bills and what you spend on essentials such as food, then distribute the remaining funds towards varying expenses such as entertainment.
It’s good to monitor your spending habits (we recommend these apps) during the first week or two of university to make sure that your estimates were correct and that your budget will accommodate your actual spending.
When you calculate your expenses, it would be best to write them down in a spread sheet so that you make sure you haven’t overlooked anything.
Depending on your individual situation, you may have additional costs but your expenditure spread sheet should contain the main costs you can predict:
• Tuition Fee
• Utility bills (Gas, water, electricity)
• Phone/Internet bills
• Course costs
• Books and stationery
• Food and drink
• Clothes and shoes
• Going out
• Holidays and presents
• Emergency fund
Now that you have established an annual budget plan you can break it off into a weekly sum of money that you will need.
Top tip: The best way to make sure that you don’t overspend is to keep your money divided into two separate bank accounts: one where you keep the money for all of the essential expenses such as rent, bills and food and the other for non-essentials such as entertainment and going out.
Keeping track of your weekly budget and of whether you’re exceeding it or not will help you stay in control of your financial situation.
Breaking your money up into two separate bank accounts will make you aware of how much you can spend on luxuries after having covered your basic utilities and rent each month and as long as you stick to it you shouldn’t run out of money at the end of the week.
Apps You Can Use for Budgeting at University
Sticking to your budget can be harder than it sounds but as long as you’ve made a realistic budget to begin with you should manage to follow your initial plan.
Still, there are some apps that can help you stay on top of your spending and keep you within budget once you get to university.
Technology is, once again, your friend and you can use your smart phone, tablet, or even laptop to keep tabs on your spending habits, monitor your budget, and calculate upcoming costs.
Look for the apps that work best for you according to what you need, just know that there are several types of budgeting apps and they can help in different ways:
Finance centralising apps
There are several apps that centralise all of your accounts and credit cards and constantly show you the balance you have on each of them.
Using one of these apps will help you monitor your spending, available income and due credit payments so don’t hesitate to try them out and use the one you find the most comprehensive and easy to understand.
Budget calculator apps
Budget calculators will help you to define your cost sheet as well as to stay up to date on your spending. This type of app will help you track your expenses and keep you in check when it comes to exceeding your budget so it’s a useful tool to have.
--> Goodbudget Budget Planner (Apple)
--> Monthly Budget (Android)
Budget tracking apps
These apps are staples of student budgeting and they can be used to manage all or your personal finances. Depending on the app that you choose, you might be able to also plan, organize, change, and monitor your budget.
There are many useful finance managing apps that you can choose from, just find one that is user-friendly, works for your OS, and seems the most engaging and easy to use for you.
Spending monitoring apps
Some apps are designed to monitor your spending habits and can help you stick to your budget by planning ahead for certain items and expenses. Not only can spending monitoring apps track where and how you spend money, they can notify you when you are about to exceed your previously established budget so that you know that you are about to overspend and plan accordingly.
Shopping list apps
This type of app will come in handy before going shopping and keep you from overspending on anything from groceries to stationery and toiletries. In a sense, if you’re the kind of person that gets distracted and drawn in by the pretty, colourful labels and ends up buying things they don’t need, this kind of app can become a life saver.
Apps that help you create shopping lists before a trip to the store will not only keep you focused on the items that you actually need as opposed to letting you get distracted by clever marketing campaigns, they can also predict the costs of your shopping cart so that you know what you can afford before going shopping.
Depending on the app you are using, you might get suggestions about the best stores to shop at based on how much the items in your basket cost in each supermarket. Using a shopping list app will keep your spending habits in check, keep you in budget and help you shop cheaper.
Browse around and choose the tools that work best for your situation since there are many types of personal finance apps and some might be more student friendly than others. Read about some of the more popular student budgeting apps and figure out if what they do can help you improve your budgeting then start using the ones you need.
Overview of University Life on a Budget
Starting university can be scary, for many students it’s the first time living away from home and managing their own daily routines from grocery shopping to coursework and laundry.
However, besides the inevitable sad ramen dinner that will take place every once in a while, the years spent in university will likely be some of the most interesting and entertaining ones you’ll remember.
Although many first-years fear the financial responsibility that they will have to take on, it’s actually not that problematic as long as you make a budget plan and follow it.
Just get informed about your situation, know what your possibilities are and maximise your opportunities: you can make the best of the resources you have at your disposal and fully enjoy university life without constantly worrying about financial insecurities.
The most important thing is to stick to your weekly budget but once you’ve mastered that it will be a lot easier to enjoy university life.
Here are a few more smart budgeting tips for you:
• Make sure that you have all the information you need before getting started and that you make sound financial decisions in every situation.
• Do some research on student credit cards before applying for one so that you know how to use them to your advantage and how to maintain a good credit score. Credit cards can be a very helpful tool as long as you use them wisely but they can turn into a nightmare if you don’t properly understand how they work.
• Learn about the bursaries and scholarships that your university offers to help you get additional financial support while studying and maximise your income. Many students struggle with their budgeting in the beginning so don’t panic, it takes a while to get the hang of it.
• Ask for advice and help from your students’ union and your university, as they have financial advisors who can guide you through your budgeting mishaps. The truth is that many students find that they need advice on personal finances once they start university so it’s very common to ask for help when learning how to budget: a financial advisor working with your university will figure out the best solution for your problem and teach you how to maximise the resources that are available to you.
Once you’ve got a grip on your weekly budget and understand all the tools you have at your disposal for managing your personal finances, you can start to relax and enjoy university life.
The more you learn about the ins and outs of campus life, the more you will be able to stretch your budget and save up for the things you want as well.
Saving a few pounds here and there might not seem like a lot in the beginning but keep at it and you’ll see the results in time.
Be smart about saving money on all of your expenses and it’ll be a lot easier to take a weekend trip or buy concert tickets if you’ve got a bit left in your budget at the end of the month.
Living Expenses: Utilities
Utility bills can’t be avoided by most students since everybody needs gas and electricity but there are ways of cutting down on these expensive living costs by making informed decisions and being smart about the way you use energy every day.
You might think that saving a few quid every month isn’t worth the trouble but think about what this small sum ads up to at the end of the year and you might change your opinion on the matter.
The fact is that every little helps so you won’t realize how important it is to cut down on these expenses until you draw the line on your total costs: you will end up saving a lot of money that you can actually go on to spend on yourself rather than giving it to your gas company.
There are several simple things you can do to save on utility bills so combine these methods and figure out which you can implement best in your situation.
Find the best deals and compare them
There’s no point in being loyal to your current supplier if they’re not offering you a great deal. Shop around for the best deals on the market and go on the internet to compare them and figure out which is the best option for you.
There are many comparison websites online that you can use to see which company offers better rates and which deals will work best for you.
Top tip: Use online tools to compare offers from gas companies, electricity companies, and even broadband providers so shop around before signing on for the best service available. Once you’ve found the best deal, don’t hesitate to change your supplier at the start of each year if they’re not the best option for you. It’s ideal to avoid cancellation charges so wait for your contract to expire before changing your supplier and start your year right by shopping around before signing up to a service in the first place.
Choose the best payment plan and method
The way your payment is processed can affect how much you are charged by your supplier.
Most utility companies offer discounts for clients who choose to pay by direct debit so opt for direct debit payment plans whenever you can.
Paperless billing can also help you save money as you’re no longer being charged a mailing fee.
Top tip: Setting up direct debit payment doesn’t take long and it ensures that your bills are paid on time every month so there are many obvious advantages to it but make sure that you are reading your meters and keeping tabs on your actual usage so that you don’t have a large bill at the end of the year due to underpaying.
Look for a good fixed fee plan
Many energy companies offer you the option of paying a fixed fee each month instead of paying for the actual usage.
While this means that you will be paying for a bit more than you use during the summer, you’ll save more during the winter months, when your usage is higher.
Top tip: Be careful not to go overboard with your usage however, companies will charge you extra if you go over your estimation.
Keep track of your usage
If you’re not on a fixed fee plan make sure to always read your meters and compare them to your monthly bills.
It only takes you a few minutes to check if what your meters indicate matches your utility bills and you won’t be losing any money to poor estimates. Make sure that you always only pay for what you use.
Cut down your usage
We are creatures of habit, so we might as well make sure that our daily routines save us money instead of costing us more.
You’ve heard it all before but it’s really important to be as energy efficient as possible so make sure you do everything you can to use as little as you can by getting used to doing a few important things:
• Turn off the lights when you’re not using them;
• Don’t leave electronics on stand-by;
• Don’t leave taps running;
• Don’t put a half load of clothes in your washing machine, wash smartly instead;
• Use energy-efficient products (especially light bulbs);
• Dress warmer instead of turning the heating up when possible;
• Hang your clothes out to dry instead of using a tumble dryer (it’s free).
It may not seem like much but getting into the habit of doing all of these things on a regular basis will have a noticeable impact on your monthly utility bills. Just try it and see for yourself just how much money you can save by being smarter about your use of electricity, water and gas.
Once you’ve figured out how well this can work for you, make sure you let your flatmates know about it as well. There’s no point in you making all these efforts to save energy if your flatmates don’t do the same: teamwork is required here to make your house energy efficient.
Speaking of flatmates, if one of them finds a significant other that spends a lot of time at your flat don’t hesitate to talk to them about it: hanging out is fine but if they’re sleeping there most of the time, charging their electronics, and taking showers at your place almost every day they should be pitching in for the utility bills, it’s only fair.
Don’t think it’s rude to talk to your flatmate about it, if another person is running up your monthly utility usage they should be helping to pay the utilities as well.
Take advantage of your student status when travelling, it would be a shame not to: there are many student travel cards that can lower the costs of travelling by as much as one third and they are easy to access.
You’ll need to budget for travelling expenses anyway since attending lectures off-campus, getting to workshops and going home for the holidays will require some extra funds so make sure you always travel for as little money as possible.
Student cards are available for subways, railways, and buses in most areas so find out which discounts you can get in your region. If you’re going home for the holidays, plan ahead and book your tickets in advance so that you save even more.
The popular stereotype that students live on cup noodles and baked beans isn’t necessarily true and while you’re bound to experience the ramen-only dinner in your dormitory once or twice there are ways to have a healthy and well balanced diet while you are in university, even on a tight budget.
You just have to be organized in terms of shopping, meal planning, and time.
The most likely reason for a cup noodle dinner won’t necessarily be the lack of funds so much as the lack of time to cook an actual meal so plan ahead and make sure you always have access to good quality food no matter how low you are on time or funds.
Make a meal plan
• Plan your weekly meals before time and write down the ingredients you will need to prepare them.
• Choose meals that are easy to make and are less time consuming but don’t just eat junk food. You can easily find quick recipes online and integrate some protein, fruits and vegetables into your dinner. You don’t have to obsess over portioning every snack but plan for at least one cooked meal a day, either lunch or dinner depending on what works best for your schedule, and stick to it.
• Cook delicious meals from scratch in 15 to 20 minutes if you look at the right student friendly recipes so embrace your inner chef and start browsing for the best ideas. If you can’t spare the time to cook every day, it’s better to cook in bulk and then portion out your food into meals and freeze it. This way you don’t waste any food and you can quickly defrost and reheat a portion of home-made food when you need a quick, warm dinner and you don’t have the time to make it from scratch.
• Even if you don’t plan every meal, think about what you will need to make yourself a quick breakfast and pack yourself a good lunch throughout the week and add the items you need to your shopping list.
• Pack your lunches to save money when you need to eat something on the go. It will only take you a couple of minutes to make a sandwich and grab an apple or an orange from the fridge and it will cost you a lot less than buying junk food later on in the day, not to mention it will be healthier for you.
Always have a shopping list
Having a shopping list keeps you organized and on the right track: you’ll avoid the temptation of impulse shopping and make sure that you’re only getting what you actually need.
Estimating what the cost of the items on your list will be or using a shopping list app that displays the total cost of the items in your basket will keep you on top of your budget and help you avoid overspending.
Students can’t avoid certain upfront costs when starting university since course materials are a must-have but you don’t always have to pay full price for them.
Many universities are aware of the financial strain that students can experience when faced with many required purchases so they often run sales for second-hand course books: new students can purchase books at a discounted price from older students who no longer need to use them but that could, in turn, use some extra money.
So don’t hesitate to buy second-hand books from older students and sell them again once you don’t need them anymore.
Try to buy only the books that you absolutely have to and go down to the library and borrow the ones that are available. Universities might also offer discounts on course materials if you purchase them directly from your department so ask about what materials you can actually get this way before spending a lot of money in book stores.
If you’re living in a dormitory you most likely have access to a broadband connection but for those living off-campus the costs of setting up an internet connection could be higher than expected.
The library is a great way to access the internet for research and studying but when it comes to personal use it won’t do. So, if you’re interested in setting up a broadband connection you should do a bit of research first. Find out what additional fees you will be charged besides the quote that you receive for your broadband service package.
Customers are often unaware of the extra charges they will need to pay for services such as phone line installations or line rentals when setting up a broadband internet service so ask about those additional costs before deciding on the best option for you.
Top tip: Go online and use comparison sites to find the best deal that you can and compare both service packages and providers before you make a decision so that you spend as little as you can for the service you need.
Entertainment & Fun
Everybody needs to relax and have some fun every once in a while and some of the best memories you will have from your university days will be from parties and trips you and your friends will experience.
But this is where it becomes tough to stick to your budget as social outings can cost you quite a bit.
The golden rule is not to overdo it: it’s great to go out with friends and relax as long as it doesn’t affect your studies or your budget.
Here are a few more tips for you:
• Set aside a certain amount of time for entertainment each week and plan your outings beforehand so that you can estimate how much they will cost you.
• Stay on budget when it comes to entertainment by balancing out your activities: if you splurged a bit on the last night out by ordering an extra drink or grabbing something to eat on your way home and went a little over budget, make the next social gathering a less costly one by inviting your friends over for a movie night at your place or by attending free events organized by your university.
• Since there are so many options to choose from when it comes to entertainment, don’t settle. Shop around for the best deals you can get to save some money on your next fun activities by going online and finding special student discounts and offers such as two-for-one cinema nights or buy one get one free pizza deals. If you know about an upcoming trip and you don’t want to miss out swap a few pricy club outings for staying in with your flatmates and watching movies so that you can save up the money you need.
Just remember that you don’t always need to spend a lot of money to have fun.
Choose activities that you love doing.
Depending on the home insurance policy that your parents have, your belongings may or may not be covered by your household and contents insurance at home.
Check with them to see if you are covered and try to get your possessions insured if they currently aren’t since they might be a lot more valuable than you think.
Between your laptop, smartphone, TV, camera, clothes and jewellery your personal belongings will amount to a pretty penny. If they get stolen or lost it will be difficult for you to replace them without blowing your budget so get them insured before you start university.
Student contents insurance policies can be relatively cheap depending on what you need to cover so it’s worth taking the time to find an affordable insurance package to fit your needs.
You can go online on comparison websites to find and compare policies and get free quotes before deciding on what the best option is for you.
Personal Care (Toiletries)
When you’re no longer living at home you quickly discover that you have to spend a lot of money on toiletries. Since shampoo, shower gel and toothpaste aren’t optional you should set aside a budget for the basic personal care items you will need.
But there are several things you can do to cut down the costs of toiletries and they all revolve around having a great shopping strategy.
Keeping an eye out for special offers and discounts on your preferred personal care products is always a great way to ensure you save money on every purchase: you can buy in bulk when the item you use is on sale and store the extra items away until you need them since toiletries don’t usually spoil.
Another great tactic is to combine sales with coupons and get the lowest possible price on an item so don’t throw coupons away before looking through them: they might offer discounts on products that you’re interested in.
If you’re finding that your toiletries are stretching your budget consider switching to less expensive brands for some of the items that you use.
When it comes to buying make-up, stick to the necessary items and try to only buy them when the stores or the companies you are getting them from have special offers since brand name make-up can be quite pricy.
Although a trip to the shops is very tempting once you get some money into your bank account it may not be the best idea to spend your entire clothes budget in one major shopping spree.
Normally you’d look for sales and special offers so fight the temptation of impulse purchases and wait for store discounts.
• Only buy what you really need at retail price and search for student discounts that are available in your area. There are student cards that you can get to gain access to additional discounts and sales and many brands and stores offer special prices for students via their student ID so do some research before you start shopping.
• You can also buy some of your clothes online from websites that offer you cash back with each purchase so look around and find out which supplier has the best deals. Charity shops and second hand stores can also be an option if your budget is stretched very thin but supermarket chains often carry their own lines of affordable clothing so they’re worth looking into when it comes to your basic wardrobe needs. Another great way to diversify your look is to swap clothes with your friends every now and then: you and your friends are likely to have clothes you don’t wear a lot that another one of you might love so swapping clothes is a great option for improving your wardrobe without spending any money.
• You can also go online and find websites that organize clothes swapping: you list the clothes you’d like to swap and find something you love to trade them for.
Most students aren’t aware of how many extra expenses can add up to their living and studying costs at the end of the term but the truth is that there will be unexpected costs here and there and unless they are properly handled they can add up to a massive sum.
Printing and photocopying course work can end up costing you a lot of money in the long run so it might be better to just buy a printer from the very beginning in order to limit these expenses.
Top tip: Refilling your own printer cartridges and buying refilled ones instead of new ones is a lot cheaper and will work well as long as you don’t need to print out high quality photographs or content. Print in black and white and on both sides of the paper to cut down on your costs and avoid other unnecessary bills such as library fines, carelessness will just end up costing you more.
As long as you calculate your annual budget well and stick to your weekly limit, you should have no problem staying on top of your finances.
It may seem scary at first but you once you get used to budgeting, spending and saving wisely living on a determined amount of money every week will become second nature.
The purpose of going to university is for you to grow as a person and that extends beyond your curriculum and your courses: you will make mistakes and learn how not to repeat them so don’t panic if you find yourself struggling every now and then.
Teach yourself to be disciplined and organized when it comes to your personal finances and make every penny count: you’re bound to manage your budget successfully and feel proud of yourself at the end of the term.
Useful tips for budgeting at university, great for students to be and current university students who are looking to tidy up their financial situations.