It sounds really boring, but sorting out your budget needs to be the first thing you do. Having enough money will make or break your time at University.
Your student loan is paid into your bank account in three instalments at the start of each term, so it might seem like you've loads of cash to splash in freshers' week – but you haven't. That money needs to last the whole term, so spend it wisely.
Knowing how much income you'll have is essential
There are three stages to working out your budget:
1. Look at how much cash you'll have coming in.
2. Realistically work out how much money you'll have going out.
3. Then subtract your outgoings from your income and divide it by the number of weeks there are during a term. Once you've done this, you'll have an idea of how much you'll have to live off week by week.
Crucially, DON'T spend more than this.
When making a budget it's easy to forget some of the things you could end up spending your money on each week and each term. To help you out we've thought of possible incomings and outgoings to get you started:
Money coming in should be easy to work out and realistically will be a much shorter list than that going out. The sort of money you might have coming in is:
- Student loan
- Any grants, bursaries, sponsorships or scholarships you're eligible for
- Any cash from parents – if you can, agree in advance with them how much they're offering to give a week/month/term. Any work income
- Any savings you're planning to use at university
If you open a student bank account (which you'll need to do), you'll also have an overdraft as a buffer.
The possible money you could have going out is more complicated and will be different based on, for example, whether you're in university accommodation in your first year, or have a car with you at university - so you'll have to think about petrol costs etc. So we've divided it into categories to include all possible outgoings – just include the ones that apply to you:
- Tuition fees
- Accommodation fees
- Course supplies
- Contents insurance (unless you're on your parents' home insurance – check with them)
- Mobile phone
- TV licence
- Food shopping
- Car insurance and tax
- Car maintenance
- Breakdown cover
- Drinking and eating out
- Tickets (cinemas/clubs etc)
- Books and magazines
- Large one-off purchases, eg, bike, laptop, car
Calculating your incomings and outgoings is just one step on your budgeting journey. You also need to think about how you're going to initially record and then continue to track your budget throughout your time at uni.
How you decide to work out your weekly budget and stick to it will depend on what sort of person you are. Do you prefer an Excel spreadsheet, using an app on the go, or just good old-fashioned paper and pen?
You may need to try a few different ways of budgeting before you find the best one for you, but when you do find it, make sure you stick to it.
If you're glued to your smartphone and find this an easy way of keeping track of things in other areas of your life (for instance using your phone as a diary), an app for your budget might be the right option for you.
There are lots of budgeting apps out there. The biggest thing to keep in mind is making sure it's a reputable app as you'll be divulging financial information. It's also probably best not to fork out too much money for the app (free is best!) just in case you don't get on with it.
All the apps below are free to use or download, so may be a good place to start:
- Yolt – Allows you to track your finances and manage your overall spending. You can use categories to see how much you're spending in different areas.
- Cleo – Works through Facebook and takes a read-only (so no one can ever move money in or out of your account) look at your spending to help you keep track of your finances.
- Money Dashboard – Categorises your spending and displays all incoming and outgoing amounts on a dashboard chart, so you can see what you spend in different areas.
- Pariti – Connects your bank accounts: you can view what you have coming in plus set spending goals. It updates automatically each day so you can see what you've left to spend.
- Spending Tracker – You can choose to track your spending weekly, monthly or yearly.
If you don't have a smartphone, or you do, but want to try something other than an app, the UCAS budget calculator is a good place to start.
Some people work better on their laptop using a spreadsheet that they can sit down and look at. This could be something you create yourself, or alternatively, you could fill out one that's already been created. You can request an excel budget sheet by contacting CSU advice.
If all else fails, even getting out the trusty paper and pen can work to jot down a rough budget - it's better than nothing at all.
There are always things you can do to improve your budget – take a look at the tips below to see if there are any more ways to save...
Don't overpay tax on any jobs you do
If you work during term-time or over the summer to keep yourself afloat, make sure you're paying the right amount of income tax.
Students are taxed like anyone else. If you earn less than £11,500 a year (as of 6 April 2017), you shouldn't pay any tax, however old you are.
If you're employed (not self-employed) and taxed via Pay As You Earn (PAYE), you'll automatically be charged tax on earnings, so may need to reclaim it. Crucially, even if you only do temporary work, you'll be taxed as if you'd earn that salary all year round.
If your total earnings for the 2016/17 tax year came to less than £11,000 (the previous personal allowance), and you paid tax, see the HM Revenue & Customs website for how to apply for a refund.
If you're working through the whole year, but still need to reclaim, you need to wait until the end of the tax year and reclaim tax then.
If you know you're only working for a short time, eg, just the summer, you can fill in a P50 to claim tax back at that point. You need to wait four weeks after your last day at the job to make the claim.
Check yours. To see what you should be paying if you earn over the threshold, use our Income Tax Calculator. It's also handy for working out what your take–home pay will be after you graduate.
Use the money mantras when making purchases
Not sure whether to fork out for something while at uni? Use the following mantras to decide if it’s a purchase you need to make.
Skint: Ask yourself: Do I need it? Can I afford it? Is it cheaper elsewhere?
Not skint: Ask yourself: Will I use it? Is it worth it? Is it cheaper elsewhere?
Avoid cash machines that charge a fee
Some cash machines charge you for withdrawals, but no doubt there'll be a free one nearby you can use instead to save money. Be especially cautious of this on a night out – often cash machines within bars or nightclubs will charge you for using them. Don't pay to get your hands on your own cash. Don’t forget the cash machine in the Students’ Union is free for cash withdrawals.
Be smart with your food shop and cooking
Food can be one of the biggest expenditures whether you're at university or not, but there are ways you can try to cut costs. For example, towards the end of the day, often supermarkets cut the cost of some items dramatically. This could be because the food has a short best-before or use-by date, but you could always just shove it in the freezer and get it out at a later date.
Try to plan ahead what meals you're going to have for the week so you don't buy unnecessary food when you get to the supermarket. Buy lunch to prepare at home so you don't end up buying expensive sandwiches when on campus. Also make sure you've got a loaf of bread in so you're not tempted to buy fast food after a night out – you can just come home and have a snack instead.
If your housemates are willing, you can always cook meals together, saving money on ingredients and also making meal times more of a social experience.
Take out money for the week ahead
If you don't think you can trust yourself when out and about with how easy it is to use your debit card for purchases – especially with contactless payments – and keeping track of your budget, you could go old school and use cash for the week instead.
Once you've worked out your weekly budget, take the money out of a cash machine for the week. You know you've only got that to spend, so hopefully won't be tempted to make any unnecessary purchases. Any money you've left at the end of the week is a bonus and you could even put it into a savings account (or treat yourself if you think you really deserve it!).
Boost your income
If you won't be able – or won't have the time – to get a part-time job while at university, there are plenty of ways to boost what money you do have. A couple of suggestions could be; switching your bank account to bag money, flogging items you no longer use on eBay, reclaiming for flight delays and even getting paid to watch TV.
Grab the best deals
A TOTUM card unlocks 200+ student discounts in the UK, in store and online. And it now doubles up as an International Student Identity Card for use abroad. It costs £12 for 1 year, £22 for two years or £32 for three years. Many discounts are online only so you can’t get them without your TOTUM card.
Chances are if you don't go to university with your own car you'll quickly become accustomed to train travel. And if you spend more than £90 a year on train journeys, you should definitely consider getting a 16-25 Railcard, which cuts a third off off-peak train tickets and tube fares.
Cards can be bought from the railcard website for £30 a year, or £70 for three years. So spend over £90 a year, even in just one trip, and you'll save.
You can also get 12% off a one-year railcard if you're registered with student website Student Beans, or have a TOTUM card, though check for other railcard deals too, as those will often beat this.
Don't buy new books – rent, borrow or buy second-hand instead
At the start of a new term, it's likely you'll be given a list of books you'll need over the year. Depending on your course, some textbooks can break the bank and leave you out of pocket.
The university library is likely to have the texts you need, but in the first few weeks of term there's usually a rush on them, meaning you could be left waiting. So, instead of rushing out and buying them new, see if the local library has a copy. At the very least you can take time assessing how often you'll need it.
Alternatively, scout around campus, department noticeboards and even Amazon and eBay for people selling books they no longer need. If no new editions have been released since they bought them, you're getting exactly the same book, possibly just with a worn-in look. Charity shops are also good for cheap textbook hunting, especially in your university town or city.
And thanks to the internet, consider year-long book rentals. Sites such as VitalSource will loan you an electronic version of textbooks for up to a year, for up to 50% less than buying the text new.
Students are also often able to get free access to specialist resource websites via their university, although sometimes you'll have to be on campus to sign in. The library will be a good place to start to see which are available to you.