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5 August 2020
There's lots to think about when you get accepted to uni – where you're going to live, what modules to pick – but sorting your budget should be your top priority.
Knowing what you have to spend each week will help ensure you don't get into unnecessary and unmanageable debt and ultimately mean you're likely to have a better time, as you won't constantly be worrying about money.
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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 uni. For more help see the 10 Student MoneySaving Tips.
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 – without this, your budget will be bobbins.
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:
If you open a student bank account (which you'll need to do), you'll also have an overdraft as a buffer. For full information on the best student bank accounts and information on overdrafts, see our 10 Student MoneySaving Tips guide.
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:
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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.
Free student budgeting mobile apps worth downloading:
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. If you're not sure how much you'll be spending in each area, the This is Money calculator gives ballpark figures to get you started.
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. Save the Student has a student budget sheet linked to in point one of its budgeting guide, which could help get you started.
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...
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 £12,500 a year (as of 6 April 2020), 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 2018/19 tax year came to less than £11,850, or your total earnings for the 2019/20 tax year came to less than £12,500 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.
Not sure whether to fork out for something while at uni? Use the MoneySavingExpert Money Mantras. Which mantra works for you will depend on whether you're already skint or not.
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?
For a fun way to try to save money, you could use our Demotivator tool. You might think you can't survive without your skinny, double shot, extra hot, no foam, extra large latte every day on the way to lectures – but regular spends like that can soon rack up.
Use the tool to see how much your caffeine habit is costing you. For more tips on how to stretch your student loan, see our Student Checklist.
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.
Food can be one of the biggest expenditures whether you're at uni 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. Read how one MoneySaver bagged £60 of shopping for £2.55 with yellow-sticker discounts.
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.
When food shopping, try the supermarket Downshift Challenge. This is a quick and easy way to make decent savings on your food shopping, particularly if you're still just buying big brands you're used to at home. Drop just one brand level on everything and the average bill's cut by 30%. On a £20 weekly shop, that's over £300 a year less. See our Supermarket Shopping guide for tips.
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!).
If you won't be able – or won't have the time – to get a part-time job while at uni, there are plenty of ways to boost what money you do have. Our full guide on how to boost your income has a raft of tips including 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.
A TOTUM card (previously NUS Extra) 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 £14.99 for a one-year card, £24.99 for two years and £34.99 for three. So if you think you'll use it, it's a great way to save money.
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 an NUS Extra card, though check for other railcard deals too, as those will often beat this. Alternatively, Santander's student account gives a four-year railcard for free. For more info on railcards, see Cheap Train Tickets.
For an extra bonus, make sure you renew just before your 26th birthday to grab another year, or before your 24th birthday for a three-year card. For a full list of student deals, check out our Student Discounts & Deals page.
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 uni 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 (see our eBay buying tips for help) 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.
If you've done all the above, you've made a budget and stuck to it, and you still find yourself in dire straits – don't panic. There are places you can turn and ways to find help. Here's a list of some of the options available to you while at uni:
Most universities have hardship funds, opportunity awards and emergency options available if your financial situation changes or becomes desperate.
If you've managed to secure yourself a job while at uni then this could be a way to get a bit more money. Obviously you're at uni first and foremost to study, but if faced between going on a night out (where you're inevitably going to spend money) and taking an extra shift at work (where obviously you're going to be making money), you know what the sensible option is.
It may not be fun, but it's a better alternative than getting into worse money troubles. You could also chance it and ask for a pay rise; after all, if you don't ask, you don't get.
You might not want to admit to your family you're struggling and need help, but if you've tried all other options and are still struggling, it might be your best option.
If you've run out of money because of overspending, you may have not got your budget quite right. Now might be a good time to sit down with your family and draw up another one – sometimes a few heads can be better than one on this sort of thing.
BEWARE! However bad you think things may have got, NEVER go to a payday lender. Payday lenders provide money to those they know can't pay it back, meaning you'll rack up massive interest.