Going to university? How to budget and make the most of your cash | Student finance

Even if you’re not studying maths at university, you should start the term with a bit of arithmetic. When you draw up a budget, fundamentally you are trying to work out how to make your money stretch as far into the term, or beyond, as possible.

With a bit of planning, you may be able to avoid blowing it all in the early weeks and having to spend half a term eating toast. Or you might find you need extra finance and have to consider a term-time job or even an application to a hardship fund.

It’s not the most fun you could have in an afternoon but it should empower you to make the right spending decisions while away from home.

Here’s how to start:

  • Work out what money you have. This will include your student loan, any earnings and any extra financial assistance you have coming in. Make a note of how much it is, plus when it will arrive. For example, your student loan will typically be paid in three instalments, in October, January and April. If you are working during term time, will you be paid weekly or monthly?

  • Draw up a list of key outgoings. Accommodation will be at the top, followed by any household bills you will face separately, and possibly travel if your halls are a distance from the university.

  • Your living costs may be slightly higher during the first term because of books and equipment you need to buy, items you have forgotten to bring and paying for freshers’ week events.

  • Food will be a key expense but some meals may be included with your accommodation.

Books and equipment are likely to increase living costs in the first term. Photograph: Prasit Rodphan/Alamy
  • Often how much you spend on food will be determined by what you have left after other things have been covered, but if you are entirely self-catering you will need to make sure you have enough money to eat properly each week.

  • You could use an online supermarket to put together a basket of goods to get a figure to put into your budget. Bear in mind that your first shopping trip is likely to be more expensive than subsequent weeks’ if you are buying things such as salt and sugar that could last the whole term.

  • Think about other one-off expenses you want to cover. Will you go home or visit friends over the coming weeks? For this term, maybe you will want money for Christmas celebrations and gifts. Do you want to hold some money back at the start, or will you be able to earn it or have a birthday, say, when you could get a gift?

  • Add up all of the costs for the term and subtract them from the money you will have to cover them. When you are doing this, remember to work out first how long you need the money to cover. Are you planning to go home in the holidays, or will you need food etc, during that period, too? If the answer is negative – your costs outweigh your cash – remember you are likely to have access to an interest-free overdraft, assuming you have, or take out, a student bank account.

  • Bear in mind things can change when you start university. You may find a society that you want to join, and you need to pay for that, or buy equipment. It could be that at the start of term you are able to walk from your halls to lectures but in the winter you want to get the bus. You could lose your coat. Don’t think of your budget as set in stone – tinker with it as you need to.

  • The Save the Student website has a budget spreadsheet you can download and use throughout the year – you can input income and expenses on a weekly or monthly basis. Before term begins, you can use expected figures to see how far your money will stretch. Your bank may offer budgeting tools, particularly if you use an app-based bank such as Monzo. To keep track of your spending and whether you are keeping to your budget, you could try an app such as Goodbudget.



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