If there’s one generalisation made of university students that I hate the most, it is that they are ‘lazy’ and ‘merely avoiding the real world’. To tell the truth, I think they have to face ‘the real world’ a lot closer up than some others; experiencing overwhelming rises to tuition fees in conjunction with cuts to maintenance grants and loans, exploited by greedy vultures (sometimes known as landlords), and having to independently live and support themselves on little finance.
I’ve been there, done that! I’ve earned the degree and acquired the life lessons and memories that come with the package. I also know how daunting organising and managing finances can be – especially when you have little financial room to make mistakes! So here are the best ways to budget effectively that ultimately got me through my student years.
1. Make an expenditure plan at the start of the year.
Ideally, start this before you’ve even started your academic year. Make a note of the income you expect to receive over the year (maintenance loans, savings and wages from work (if you have a job)) and use this as your starting point.
Then calculate your total solid living costs (rent, bills etc.) and deduct it from your expected income. The remaining money is then your annual daily living allowance, which can be divided up into monthly, weekly, or even a daily budget. This is your financial allowance for food, study costs, travel, social etc. Try to keep to this budget as best as you can.
TIP: I tended to deduct a small sum of around £200-300 from my overall budget to keep aside for any financial ’emergencies’ that might arise.
Here is an example of what mine looked like:
- Maintenance loan: +£5,500.
- Summer work wages: +£700.
- Rent: £310 x 12 = -£3,720.
- Expected average monthly bills: £30 x 12 = -£360.
- Emergency fund: -£300.
Daily allowance = £6,200 – £4,380 = £1,820. Weekly budget = £35.
2. Write down everything you spend.
I had a little pocket book where I’d write down everything I spent each day and totted up how much allowance I had left for the week. Sometimes it was tempting to just leave out the really small purchases, like a £1 coffee here and there, but it’s vital that everything gets included as it gives the clearest and most honest picture of your finances.
It’s a great way to keep track of how you’re doing each week; it’s also a handy way of overseeing where your money is going and spotting any bad spending habits.
TIP: If you under-spend on one week, calculate and make a note of how much by and treat yourself to that excess when you need it the following week.
3. Look out for any bad habits and cut them if possible.
Just as my tip above pointed out, it’s really easy to capture bad spending habits when everything is written down. For me, it was buying lunch out every time I went on to campus (which was pretty much every day), or getting carried away with purchasing coffees. When I caught on to this I decided to make sure I brought a packed lunch with me every day and made a one-coffee-a-day allowance.
Sometimes it’s small daily changes like this that make a huge difference to weekly budgets.
4. Cut yourself some slack if you can/need to.
Of course, it is really important to discipline yourself in order to budget effectively and keep afloat as a student. However, one of my biggest regrets about university is being too strict on myself and my bank account to the point where I unnecessarily missed out on some things.
I understand that some people just simply don’t have any extra money available, for those my heart really goes out to. However, if you have some previous savings that haven’t been included in your initial yearly allowance, or you have some leniency on your overdraft, don’t be too afraid to use it.
Money can be earned back, opportunities and memories can’t. I’m not saying go crazy with this ideology – just that the odd pizza night with your friends that knocks you £5 over your weekly budget isn’t always the end of the world. You can always make it up another time.